Sir Alfred Munnings

Through the gap

Oil on panel: 19.8(h) x 23.5(w) in /

50.2(h) x 59.7(w) cm

Signed and dated 1910

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BT 195

 

SIR ALFRED MUNNINGS, KCVO, PRA, RWS

Mendham 1878 – 1959 Dedham

 

Through the gap

 

Signed and dated 1910

Oil on panel: 19 ¾ x 23 ½ in / 50.2 x 59.7 cm

Frame size: 25 ½ x 29 ½ in / 64.8 x 74.9 cm

 

Provenance:

Frost & Reed, London

Private collection, USA

 

 

Alfred Munnings captures the excitement of a herd of ponies being driven through dense undergrowth, partly silhouetted against open sky. The driver, on a bay pony, is Shrimp (Fountain Page), the gypsy boy – ‘an undersized, tough, artful young brigand’[1] – who was Munning’s favourite model in the early years of the twentieth century. Munnings rose magnificently to the challenge of portraying a group of horses moving at speed in three-quarter-view, taxing his knowledge of horse anatomy and behaviour.

 

Munnings acquired a motley collection of ponies and horses from the gypsy horse dealer Drake and worked on more than one series of paintings featuring a group of horses in movement, including The ford, the large version of which was ‘skied’ at the Royal Academy in 1911. Munnings had been spurred to paint a group of horses approaching the viewer at headlong, three-quarter view by Lucy Kemp-Welch’s famous painting of Colt hunting in the New Forest (Tate Britain, London) which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1897. Munnings’s first attempt to go ‘out to beat’ this work was The vagabonds of 1902, formerly in the Bunting Collection.

 

Through the gap is part of the series Coming through the gap, which Munnings worked on in 1910 and 1911. The largest oil in this series was the 30 x 40 in (76.2 x 101.6 cm) painting formerly in the Bunting Collection, which was sold at Christie’s London on 12th June 2002, lot 9. It is similar to the present work, with the same configuration of ponies and Shrimp raising his whip at the left, although the pattern of trees against the light is somewhat different. Another oil painting from the series, Coming through the gap of 1911, was sold at Christie’s London on 9th June 1988, lot 134 (19 x 23 ½ in / 48.2 x 59.6 cm). It shows ponies being driven through a more open patch of gorse, with Shrimp far in the background.

 

The white pony which lights up the centre of Through the gap, just below the burst of light from the sky, is probably Augereau, which Munnings bought from Drake when he was living at Church Farm, Swainsthorpe in his early years of independence as a painter. The use of a white pony or horse to provide a brilliant focus is a favourite motif of Munnings.

 

 


SIR ALFRED MUNNINGS, KCVO, 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.

 

[1] Sir Alfred Munnings, An Artist’s Life, London 1950, p.207.

SportingSir Alfred Munnings