Sir Alfred Munnings

The white canoe

Oil on canvas: 20.5(h) x 24.5(w) in /

52.1(h) x 62.2(w) cm

Signed lower left: A.J. Munnings

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CL 3294



Mendham 1878 – 1959 Dedham


The white canoe


Signed lower left: A.J. Munnings

Oil on canvas: 20 ½ x 24 ½ in / 52 x 62.2 cm

Frame size: 26 ½ x 31 in / 67.3 x 78.7 cm


Painted circa 1922



Scott and Fowles, New York

Hirschl and Adler, New York

Mead Art Gallery

Christie’s London, 17th November 1978, bt. Spink

Spink, London

Private collection, UK

Richard Green Gallery, London, 1999

Private collection, USA



London, Royal Academy, 1924, no.318 (The white canoe)

Probably New York, Wildenstein & Co., Sir Alfred J Munnings, 1953 (unnumbered)



L Lindsay, Pictures of Horses and English Life, 1927, p.121 (2nd edition 1939, p.65)

AJ Munnings, The Second Burst, 1951, pp.157-8; illus. between pp.152-3 (size wrongly given as 30 x 25 in)

Apollo, February 1975, illus.



The theme of the White canoe occupied Munnings from the 1920s until the end of his career, combining several favourite elements – elegant women, the river Stour and the challenge of complex light effects on foliage, water and a white object. In The Second Burst Munnings describes the genesis of this painting, made near Flatford Mill on the Stour, which is famous as the boyhood home of Constable. ‘The picture of the white canoe was painted on a still, grey afternoon, quite twenty-eight years ago [1922]. The scene comes back. Willows, dark reflections in the deep pool at the bend of the stream above the wooden bridge; my wife and a friend, both twenty-eight years younger then, in summer dresses of the day, seated in a Canadian canoe, which was fastened with cords fore and aft to overhanging boughs….The next day I did another and larger canvas under the same conditions of weather. What artist could resist such a stillness in the air, such unchangeable grey skies, such peace? The first canoe-picture went to the Academy of 1924, the second attempt to the International Exhibition at Pittsburgh the same year’[1].


The present painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1924, shows Violet Munnings and her friend Beatrice Thomas paddling the canoe across the Stour from left to right. It shows Munnings’s sensitivity to light and inventiveness with colour. The rippling Stour and grey-green, sword-shaped willow leaves are painted with dancing, staccato touches. The work is unified by cool blue, eau-de-nil and mint tones, giving a sense of the delicious shade of the river, offset by the dusky pink of the canoe’s interior. Munnings creates a rivulet of blue light which travels diagonally across the painting from the water, through the deep shadows of the willow trees, to Violet’s turquoise-blue dress; her glossy, dark brown hair is haloed in blue highlights. Violet, a fine equestrienne, was Munnings’s second wife. They had married in 1920 and she was a frequent model for his paintings.  


The second White canoe, exhibited at the Pittsburgh International Exhibition in 1924, is a more tranquil view with the canoe travelling right to left, parallel to the shore (private collection)[2]. Munnings reworked the canoe theme many times, using a variety of models, including the children of neighbours. He exhibited canoe subjects at the Royal Academy in 1940, 1944, 1946, 1948 and 1953. The white canoe remains at Castle House, Dedham, now the Munnings Museum.





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 then 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 60 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] P.158.

[2] 17 x 35 ¾ in / 43.1 x 91 cm. With Richard Green 1998; see Lindsay, op. cit., 1927, p.161, illus.

SportingSir Alfred Munnings