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Sir Alfred Munnings - Going to the Start

Sir Alfred Munnings

Going to the Start

Oil on panel: 9.8(h) x 14(w) in / 24.8(h) x 35.6(w) cm
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BS 313



Mendham 1878 - 1959 Dedham


Going to the Start


Signed lower right A.J. Munnings; inscribed on the reverse Jockey going to steeplechase start

Oil on panel: 9 ¾ x 14 in / 24.8 x 35.5 cm

Frame size: 15 ¼ x 19 ½ in / 38.7 x 49.5 cm


Painted circa 1945



Purchased by Mrs Dunne from the Leicester Galleries Munnings exhibition, 1947;

by descent in a private collection, UK;

Richard Green, London, 2003;

Mrs Suzanne Weiss, USA 



London, Leicester Galleries, The English Scene: Horses, Racing, Landscapes and Studies by Sir Alfred Munnings, October-November 1947, no.66 (as Jockey going to steeplechase start)



Munnings wrote in the third volume of his autobiography: ‘Each start was a fresh picture for me, as they have been, meeting after meeting, year after year’[1]. He was fascinated by the tension of the jostling horses and the play of light on the jockeys’ silks: ‘the grouping, the movement – colour, all dependent on the lighting, the sky. Orange satin, cerise-and-white, blue-and-yellow, emerald green – a large field waiting, regrouping. At each start, determining to retain the picture in mind, too often an incident, something a horse is doing, distracts, and once again my purpose is thwarted’[2].


The present painting is related to the central foreground horse and jockey in Going to the start, a large (42 x 57 in / 106.6 x 144.7 cm) canvas of circa 1945 now in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Saratoga Springs, New York[3]. The horse pulsates with life as it arches its neck and strains towards the starting line, held in check by the masterly control of the jockey. Munnings changed the colour of the jockey’s silks in the Saratoga painting to black and white, but he still rides at no. 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 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] The Finish, London 1952, p.207.

[2] Op. cit., p.207.

[3] See Saratoga Springs, National Museum of Racing, The Mastery of Munnings, exh. cat. by Lorian Peralta-Ramos, p.67, illus. in colour; also illus. in The Finish between pp.216 and 217, size given as 48 x 66 in.

Other Works By
Sir Alfred Munnings:

Sir Alfred Munnings - Portrait of Mrs Frederick Henry Prince (1860-1949) in the New England woods Sir Alfred Munnings - After the Steeplechase at Newbury Sir Alfred Munnings - The Norwich Fair