After the successful Canadian War Memorial Exhibition in 1919 at the Royal Academy, Munnings became one of the most sought after social portraitists of the day, receiving lucrative commissions from royalty and wealthy aristocratic horse owners around the world. Like Constable and Gainsborough before him, Munnings was a reluctant commission artist. Each new request for a portrait sent Munnings into a 'burst of petulant rage' which was only to be tamed by his wife Violet's calm, rational and sound business acumen. Then Munnings would remember 'Better men than I spent their lives painting commissions' (see A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, p. 70).
In the present work it is clear that Munnings enjoyed this particular commission; the two young brothers on their ponies are pictured against the Exmoor landscape which he loved so much, the ponies captured in his inimitable style. It is in his equestrian portraits of the 1920s that Munnings's consummate mastery of his art is best demonstrated.
Munnings was obviously particularly taken with the grey pony, with its decorative dappled colouring, refined conformation and elegant head. His admiration for the pony has led him to examine every detail including the intimate and sensitive shadow of the pony's head and ears on the flanks of the bay horse described in violet paint. The composition of the work is carefully arranged with alternating areas of dark and light acting as foils for one another, the older boy and the dark pony are set against the lighter strip of grassland in the landscape, whereas the younger boy and grey pony are set against a darker clump of bushes.
Munnings was the first artist at the turn of the century to use the Impressionist colour theory on animals. Here the two horses are depicted with blues, purples and greens, integrating them into a landscape taken from a palette of earthy colours. The whole creating an effortlessly elegant snapshot.
The double equestrian portrait formula is one which Munnings used to great effect, two fine examples being; Phyllis and Rachel (The Two Dianas) (private collection) and Portrait of Mrs Ronald Tree and her son with a greyhound at Cottesbrooke (private collection). The present work is unusual in that Tom and Luke were painted whilst they were still young boys. Arturo von Schroeders on a poly pony in a landscape, painted in 1929, is a fine example of a single equestrian portrait of a young boy, painted two years later (sold Christie's, London, 14 June 2000, lot 29, £1,323,750.)