Sir Alfred Munnings

Buzzie Finch in Munnings’s garden at ‘Hamilton’s’, Withypool, Somerset

Oil on board: 16(h) x 20(w) in /

40.6(h) x 50.8(w) cm

Inscribed on a label on the reverse in Lady Munnings’s hand: Given to Tom Slocombe / by Violet Munnings / 1960 / Buzzie Finch in the garden

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CL 3470

 

SIR ALFRED MUNNINGS, PRA, RWS

Mendham 1878 – 1959 Dedham

 

Buzzie Finch in Munnings’s garden at ‘Hamilton’s’, Withypool, Somerset

 

Inscribed on a label on the reverse in Lady Munnings’s hand: Given to Tom Slocombe / by Violet Munnings / 1960 / Buzzie Finch in the garden

Oil on board: 16 x 20 in / 40.6 x 50.8 cm

Frame size: 22 x 26 in / 55.9 x 66 cm

 

Painted circa 1942-44

 

Provenance:

The artist;

his wife Lady Munnings;

by whom given to Munnings’s groom, Tom Slocombe, in 1960;

from whom bought by Richard Green, London, 1981;

Sotheby’s London, 10th June 1981, lot 160;

Picton House Gallery, Broadway;

from whom bought in 1983 by a private collector, UK

 

Literature:

Country Life, 2nd December 1982 (advertisement)

 

 

From the 1920s Alfred Munnings was much in demand as an equestrian portraitist, depicting the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII), Paul Mellon and many other members of high society both sides of the Atlantic. He also continued to make informal portraits of friends, such as this lively study of Buzzie Finch relaxing in his garden in Somerset. During the Second World War Munnings’s house at Dedham in Essex was requisitioned by the Army and he moved with his second wife Violet to ‘Hamiltons’ at Withypool on the edge of Exmoor, a Victorian house which Violet kept as a base for hunting. Exmoor’s rolling, heather-clad uplands gave Munnings an exhilarating sense of freedom, despite the privations of the War and the burdens of being President of the Royal Academy, an honour to which he was elected in 1944. In Somerset, Munnings painted some of his finest landscapes, the Exmoor ponies and the sturdy sheep-farmers and shepherds who wrested a living from this terrain.

 

The stylish Antoinette De Guerville, nicknamed ‘Buzzie’, bought Hillway Farm, Withypool in 1942[1]. In 1947 she married a local land agent, Keith Falcon; they lived at Hillway Farm until the farmhouse tragically burned down in 1983. Well liked in the community and a superb horsewoman, as was Violet Munnings, Buzzie hunted with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds and with the local packs of foxhounds. As her husband explained in a letter to a former owner of this painting, Buzzie and Munnings ‘were great friends and used to ride together on Exmoor’[2]. ‘Finch’ also seems to have been a nickname, perhaps invented by Munnings as a play on Buzzie’s married name of Falcon.

 

The portrait reflects Munnings’s spontaneity and vivid, highly personal sense of colour. Buzzie seems to emanate from the landscape, her moss green slacks and pale blue jumper toning with the myriad greens in the lush garden. The predominantly green tones are thrown into focus by her bright red scarf and the pink and white blossoms in the border. Her glossy brown hair is given life by the coloured shadows – pink, blue, yellow dragged brushstrokes – that sparkle in it. Buzzie’s face, with its crisp, neat features and a hint of character and determination, is of a female type that Munnings admired. His wife Violet had similarly delicate features which he delighted in painting in profile.

 

When painting portraits, Munnings was accustomed to make a number of lively studies in different poses to explore the personality of his sitter and the shifts of light thoroughly. While the present painting remained with Munnings, Buzzie Finch was given an oil on board study of her seated in a pose very similar to this view, as well as paintings of her standing and sitting, wearing the same clothes as in the present work[3]. These were probably destroyed in the farmhouse fire in 1983.

 

Buzzie Finch in the garden was given by Violet Munnings in 1960, the year after Munnings’s death, to Tom Slocombe. Slocombe worked as a harbourer for the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, and thus would have known Buzzie well. (A harbourer is the man with expert knowledge of the deer herds who selects the stag to be hunted). He also worked at Castle House, Dedham, as Munnings’s groom.

Slashing strokes of paint give a liveliness and immediacy to this study of Munnings’s friend relaxing in a simple wooden chair in the artist’s garden; she looks so modern in a sweater,

trousers and slip-on shoes – a figure which wouldn’t look out of place from the late 1920s to the early 1950s – that the portrait is difficult to date.

 

We note the sitter’s short hair, lightly permed at the ends, a made-up face with the usual bright red lips in vogue during these years. She wears a pale blue knitted jumper, with a long, narrow scarf (a fashionable accessory of the 1930s) of bright red printed rayon, round her neck. The practical informality of Buzzie Finch’s appearance reflects life in the countryside, and possibly the exigencies of war, when clothing was rationed, and women were urged to ‘Make Do

and Mend’ (fig. 1), to manage with a very limited wardrobe.[4] Her trousers, known as slacks due to their loose fit (a style first appearing in the 1920s) are of dark brownish-green corduroy.

Such slacks were popular informal wear during the 1930s, and during the Second World War they were worn for their warmth and comfort – ‘all young women adore them’ claimed an advertisement in Harvey Nichols’ 1941 catalogue.[5] The widespread use of trousers by all women during the Second World War confirmed their important place in the female wardrobe from then onwards. Buzzie’s practical yet modestly stylish appearance would be in keeping with

the wartime mood, when clothes were rationed; fashion was more or less at a standstill; it was fashionable to be unfashionable.

 

Aileen Ribeiro

 

 


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 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] I am grateful to Gillian Lamble for information about Buzzie Finch, Tom Slocombe and Hillway Farm.

[2] Letter of 30th December 1982.

[3] Letter, ibid.

[4] Make Do and Mend was the title of a pamphlet issued by the British Ministry of Information (1943) to provide tips on mending and re-cycling clothes, such as how to unpick and re-knit woollen garments (‘New life for old Woollies’, p.30), for example.

[5] Penelope Byrde, A Visual History of Costume. The Twentieth Century, London, 1992, p.79.

SportingSir Alfred Munnings