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Sir Alfred Munnings - Brightworthy Ford, Withypool, Exmoor
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Sir Alfred Munnings

Brightworthy Ford, Withypool, Exmoor

Oil on canvas: 20 x 30 (in) / 50.8 x 76.2 (cm)
Signed lower right

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Mendham 1878 - 1959 Dedham

Ref: BZ 123


Brightworthy Ford, Withypool, Exmoor


Signed lower right

Oil on canvas: 20 x 30 in / 50.8 x 76.2 cm

Frame size: 25 x 35 in / 63.5 x 88.9 cm

Painted in the 1940s






Private collection, UK



In the 1920s Alfred Munnings’s second wife, Violet, who was a superb equestrienne, bought a cottage, ‘Riverside’, at Withypool in Somerset. She hunted on Exmoor with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, enjoying more challenging terrain than the hunting in East Anglia. In 1940 Munnings’s home, Castle House at Dedham in Essex, was requisitioned by the Army. He moved to Withypool, finding a curious freedom in the midst of conflict by painting pure landscape, unburdened by irksome commissions.


This painting depicts a favourite spot on the river Barle which Munnings painted again and again, marvelling at its constantly changing light and colour. In the third volume of his autobiography, The Finish, he waxed lyrical about ‘Brightworthy – evening – never have I known so uplifting, so inspiring, so healing an effect of happy, divine light from the blessed sun above’. Munnings noted ‘the long, dark, calm, curving line of the hill…Over the hill the sky itself made an intense and yet more intense line of light’[1].


He might have been writing about the present canvas. The panoramic composition evokes the smooth sweep of the purple moorland, with sheep grazing contentedly in the middle ground and shadows gathering in the hedgerows. The river Barle gleams with the golden rays of the setting sun as it ripples over boulders and pebbles, very different in character from the smooth green waters of the Stour near Munnings’s Dedham home. Both landscapes – the wild and the gentle – were dear to Munnings’s heart and both drew forth some of his most sensitive work.


A number of views of Brightworthy are in the collection of the Munnings Art Museum, Dedham[2].





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] The Finish, London 1952, p.70.

[2] See for example The Public Catalogue Foundation: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership: Essex, London 2006, pp.128-9, paintings illus. in colour.


Other Works By
Sir Alfred Munnings:

Sir Alfred Munnings - A sketch of Miss Victoria Brady for 'Mrs Helen Cutting and Misses Brady' (RA 1935) Sir Alfred Munnings - Early morning, Newmarket Sir Alfred Munnings - Dedham Mill pool


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