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Post Lot Text
SIR ALFRED JAMES MUNNINGS, PORTRAIT OF THE HORSE MAHMOUD IV, OIL ON CANVAS, SIGNED
This powerful horse, set against a story sky that reflects the colours of his coat, is Mahmoud, the Aga Kahn’s race horse. Here Mahmoud is shown at the Epsom Derby in June 1936, where he won a double record: he achieved the fastest time for the course, and came in first against a horse from the same stable, this success has never before or since been repeated in one hundred and fifty years of horse racing, and the course record stood for fifty-nine years before being beaten. This success in his three-year-old season followed others, such as the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster the previous year. Born in 1933 to Mah Mahal by the Derby winner Blenheim, both of whom raced in the Aga Kahn’s colours, Mahmoud had not always been a favourite of his owner, who had previously attempted to sell him as a yearling. However, following his outstanding Derby win, the Aga Kahn commissioned portraits of his champion from Sir Alfred Munnings, at that point the most brilliant equestrian painter of the British school. Another painting from this commission, depicting Mahmoud being put into harness, recently reappeared on the market in America (see Property from the Collection of Marylou Whitney; Sotheby’s, New York, 31 January 2020, lot 442.)
The present painting also shows Mahmoud as he is about to be saddled by his training jockey, Freeman. In his memoires Munnings recalled his pleasure at painting these two models, whose mutual understanding and complicity was so apparent, ‘I liked Mahmoud, and liked painting him, one reason being that he was looked after by a most intelligent lad who understood me as well as his horse.’ (Sir A. J. Munnings, The Second Burst, London, 1951, p. 262).
Here Munnings has captured the tenderness of the moment of calm before the excitement of the race. His spontaneous, light touch, quintessential of the artist used to painting from life, brings out the strong musculature of the animal and his concentrated mood.
Following the 1936 season, Mahmoud was retired to stud. He was later sold to the American business man Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and became one of the leading broodmare sires in North America, he was the damsire of Gallant Man, Grey Dawn and Career Boy amongst others, and his daughter Almahmoud was one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century. Through both his racing and breeding he stands amongst the most important horses in Anglo-American sporting history.