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Sir Alfred Munnings - The horse fair
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Sir Alfred Munnings

The horse fair

Pencil, watercolour and gouache: 9 x 12 (in) / 22.9 x 30.5 (cm)
Signed and dated lower right: A.J. Munnings 01

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Mendham 1878 - 1959 Dedham

Ref: BZ 192


The horse fair


Signed and dated lower right: A.J. Munnings ‘01

Pencil, watercolour and gouache: 9 x 12 in / 22.9 x 30.5 cm

Frame size: 16 ½ x 19 ½ in / 41.9 x 49.5 cm





Private collection, South Africa

Richard Green, London, 2002

Private collection, UK



London, Richard Green, Sporting and British Art, 2002, pp.70-71, no.21, illus. in colour


By 1901 Alfred Munnings had completed his lithographic apprenticeship at Page Brothers in Norwich and was living in his native village of Mendham, Suffolk and striking out on his own as a painter. This watercolour reflects the skills of composition, arresting design and bright colour which he had learned as a commercial artist. The life of local fairs provided an endless source of subject matter. Munnings sent an ambitious 50 x 80 in oil painting of A Suffolk Horse Fair, Lavenham (Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum, Dedham) to the Royal Academy in 1901[1].

At the centre of the composition is a chestnut working horse being examined for soundness and configuration; the beast’s barely-controlled strength and underlying impatience gives drama to the picture. In the right background, a boy rides a powerful grey bareback. Munnings painted another watercolour version of this composition in 1902, Horse sale, which was commissioned by James Reeve, Curator of Norwich Castle Museum and hangs there today[2]. The horse dealer at foreground right and the man holding the horse are very similar to the figures in The horse fair; Munnings substitutes a grey horse for the chestnut in the later watercolour.  

Early in his career, Munnings painted many country scenes of farm sales and horse fairs. In his autobiography, he describes a similar painting which is at the Castle Museum, Norwich: 'A Country Horse Fair. Bright sun, tents, crowds, and a black horse hustled by one man and held by another. For this Gray Junior dressed himself in one of those hikey horse dealer’s suits which were made for me to my measurements at a particular kind of tailor’s in Norwich. A vanished type, those masterful horse-dealers. They roused a horse, shaking a stiff, pink, cambric flag in its face, the horse on a long halter to give it play. A fellow in velvet and checks shouted, ‘Lord Wellington didn’t ride one like ‘im in the battle of Waterloo! Every time he sets ‘is foot ‘e strikes a milestone!’ ’ (A.J. Munnings, An Artist’s Life, London 1950, pp.142-43). In many of these early paintings one sees the red-wheeled gig, the striped tents and caravans, as well as the many local characters whom Munnings loved to paint.


Susan Morris




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] See London, Sotheby’s, An English Idyll: a Loan Exhibition of Works by Sir Alfred Munnings, 2002, p.48-9, no.3, illus. in colour. 


[2] See Stanley Booth, Sir Alfred Munnings 1878-1959, London 1978, pp.46-7, illus. in colour.

Other Works By
Sir Alfred Munnings:

Sir Alfred Munnings - Early morning, Newmarket Sir Alfred Munnings - Dedham Mill pool Sir Alfred Munnings - Ponies on Withypool Common, Exmoor


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