Munnings was first introduced to the Romany gypsies by his friend and fellow artist, Olive Branson, and he swiftly became enchanted with their nomadic way of life and symbiotic relationship with the countryside. Munnings was so fascinated by their rural existence that he acquired a traditional blue caravan which he used as a mobile artist’s studio, moving around the Ringland Hills and painting the landscape in 1910. The artist first began to meet and paint gypsies in 1913 when he visited Binstead in Hampshire for the hop-picking season, which took place every autumn and attracted a crowd of itinerant workers. Munnings wrote after his first trip to Hampshire that ‘more glamour and excitement were packed into those six weeks than a painter could well contend with…never in my life have I been so filled with a desire to work as I was then' (A.J. Munnings, An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, pp. 287-9). It was with these pictures that Munnings first gained critical and financial success, through his Gipsies in Hampshire exhibition in 1920 at the Connell brothers' Bond Street gallery, and these works helped to establish him as a successful artist.
In the present lot, the figures depicted are all gypsies that Munnings had met in Hampshire, and he often used the same models for multiple compositions. The central female figure, who sits atop the green wagon driving the horse, is one of Munnings’s favourite models, Mrs Mark Stevens. She is shown here in a pink dress, green scarf and her distinctive oversized ostrich-plumed hat, seated beside Mrs Moocher Gregory. The other women depicted are as vivaciously dressed in yellow, blue and red hues, installed within the bright wagon. This work is related to a larger painting entitled Gypsies Arriving at Epsom (fig. 1), sold at Christie’s, New York, 6 December 2000, lot 103 ($3,000,000). This work is extremely alike in composition except that the wagon is blue and additional figures and animals have been added.
We are grateful to the Curatorial staff at The Munnings Art Museum for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.
This work will be included in Lorian Peralta-Ramos’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Sir Alfred Munnings.