SIR ALFRED MUNNINGS, PRA, RWS
Mendham 1878 - 1959 Dedham
The green caravan: Hampshire, hop-picking gypsies
Signed lower left: A.J. Munnings
Oil on canvas: 20 x 24 in / 51 x 61 cm
Framed size: 27 ½ x 31 ½ in / 69.8 x 80 cm
Painted in 1914
Acquired from the artist circa 1915 by Avery Wilson, née Buxton (1889-1982);
Bournemouth, Russell Cotes Art Gallery, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1955
London, Royal Academy, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1956, no.69
Stanley Booth, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1978, pp.102-3, illus. in colour
Ysanne Holt, ‘Alfred Munnings and the Painting of Gypsy Life’, in London, Sotheby’s, An English Idyll: a Loan Exhibition of Works by Sir Alfred Munnings, 5th-25th January 2001, pp.31-2, fig. 16; 87
Alfred Munnings had been fascinated by gypsy life ever since, as a small boy, he had happened upon a gypsy encampment and been frightened by these romantic but mysterious strangers. Gypsies were exotic figures of his childhood, colourful folk at country fairs where they manned the roundabouts and coconut shies and dealt in horseflesh with superb skill. In 1910 he roamed the Ringland Hills near Norwich with a blue caravan and his gypsy groom and model Shrimp, painting a life of freedom and harmony with nature.
In 1913 Munnings accompanied Olive Branson, who had trained at William Orpen’s and Augustus John’s Chelsea Art School, to paint the gypsy hop pickers who gathered in the late summer at Binstead, near Alton in Hampshire. Olive Branson had a house near Evesham and a magnificently painted and gilded gypsy caravan, in which she played out the fantasy of the closeness between the bohemian artist and the proud, wild gypsy.
The green caravan: Hampshire, hop-picking gypsies is a fruit of this painting campaign just before the First World War. Harmonies of deep blue, green, buff, cream and brown bind the figures into their natural surroundings. The gypsies are relaxed and completely at ease with their way of life: the standing woman in blue and the man lying on the grass have the grace of classical statues. Munnings works rapidly, dashing brushwork emphasizing the sense of community and the atmosphere of the campsite with its drifting smoke. The seated figure in the pale hat also appears in a camp fire scene of 1913, Gypsy camp fire (The Munnings Art Museum, Dedham). The heavy,
late-summer foliage of the embowering tree is evoked with bold dabs of olive green and midnight blue, with white highlights conveying the rustling of the leaves.
Munnings wrote of his stay in Hampshire: ‘More glamour and excitement were packed into those six weeks than a painter could well contend with. I still have visions of brown faces, black hair, earrings, black hats and black skirts; of lithe figures of women and children, of men with lurcher dogs and horses of all kinds. I still recall the never-ceasing din around their fires as the sun went down, with blue smoke curling amongst the trees. I think of crowded days of work – too swiftly gone’.
This painting was acquired around 1915 by Avery Wilson (1889-1982), seventh of nine children of Lt-Col. Geoffrey Fowell Buxton of Dunston Hall, Norfolk. Dunston was a mile from Munnings’s Swainsthorpe studio and he had a long association with the Buxtons, who were part of the Barclays banking dynasty. Famed for their ‘fabulous good looks and charm’, the Buxton siblings were brought up to be sporty and independent, with boys and girls treated equally. Munnings gave art lessons in 1906 to Avery’s younger sisters, Hazel and Rose, and portrayed them both painting and hunting with their father’s Dunston Harriers. In 1911 Avery married Col. The Hon. Guy Wilson (1877-1943), a distinguished soldier and MP. The green caravan has descended in her family.
SIR ALFRED MUNNINGS, PRA, RWS
Mendham 1878 - 1959 Dedham
Born in Mendham, Suffolk, Alfred Munnings was the son of a miller. He was apprenticed to a firm of lithographers from 1893 to 1898 and studied at the Norwich School of Art and in Paris. There he was impressed with plein-air naturalism; this, together with his introduction to the racecourse in 1899, influenced the themes for which he became famous.
While in Mendham, Munnings painted many scenes of country life, particularly horse fairs. He went to Cornwall in 1908, and for many years was an important addition to the Newlyn School of artists. When the First World War broke out, Munnings enlisted, despite having the use of only one eye owing to an accident in 1899. He became an army horse trainer near Reading and later went to France as an official war artist, attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.
The year 1919 was a major turning-point in all aspects of Munnings’s life; he painted his first racehorse, Pothlyn, the winner of the Grand National, and became an Associate of the Royal Academy. He met Violet McBride, whom he was to marry, and bought Castle House, Dedham, where the Munnings Memorial Trust maintains a permanent exhibition of his pictures. Munnings’s prolific career, spanning over sixty years, brought him honour, with election to the Presidency of the Royal Academy in 1944, a Knighthood in 1945, and a personal award from the Sovereign in 1947, when he was created Knight of the Royal Victorian Order.
 An English Idyll, op. cit., p.87, no.35, illus. in colour.
 An Artist’s Life, 1950, p.287.
 Sara Wheeler, Too Close to the Sun: the Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton, London 2007, p.29.
 The painting lesson: Hazel and Rose Buxton, watercolour dated 21st June 1907, with Richard Green in 1997; private collection, USA.
 Hazel Buxton on Blackie and Rose Buxton on Micky hunting with the Dunston Harriers, 1906; with Richard Green in 2013; private collection, UK.