Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878 - 1959)
The Belvoir Hunt
Oil on Canvas
18½ x 24½ in – 47 x 62.2 cm
Colonel J. A. Innes, DSO;
Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, 12 November 1986, Lot 103;
Private Collection, UK;
with The Sporting Gallery, Middleburg, Virginia
‘Mr A.J. Munnings’ Pictures at the Alpine Gallery’, Country Life, London, 30 April 1921, p.517 (illustrated);
A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, London, 1950, p.68-78
London, The Alpine Club Gallery, Pictures of the Belvoir Hunt and other Scenes of English Life, 1921, No.32, as In the Belvoir Woods;
Suffolk, Bury St. Edmunds Art Gallery, A Loan Exhibition of Pictures by Alfred Munnings, 1930, No.10
‘There is nothing more beautiful to be seen in the countryside than the moving of hounds and huntsmen on a mild winter day. The beauty of the horses and the scarlet of their riders and the pied rhythm of the hounds and their excitement, among the sombreness of the leafless time, so lovely in itself, in its bareness and in its colour, are a kindling to the soul’ wrote John Masefield, the future Poet Laureate in his introduction to Munnings’ 1921 exhibition Pictures of the Belvoir Hunt and other Scenes of English Life.
The commission was devised when the artist was introduced to the Master of The Duke of Rutland’s Foxhounds, Major ‘Tommy’ Bouch. Major Bouch had been impressed by Munnings’ works in the Royal Academy’s Canadian War Memorials Exhibition of 1919, and in the Spring of 1920, invited him to stay at Woolthorpe (by Belvoir), with the enticement of all the models he would need; horses, hounds and men, “all day and every day”. Munnings relished the commission and devoted a chapter to it in his autobiography, fondly remembering his time there.
Sir Alfred J. Munnings was an artist of the twentieth century steeped in the traditions and values of the past. His artistic training was not dissimilar to that of a seventeenth century Master. Showing some early talent, Munnings was apprenticed to a firm of lithographers, Page Brothers in Norwich for six years, studying at Norwich School of Art in the evening.
He had some success locally and showed two paintings at the Royal Academy in 1899. In the same year he returned to set up his studio in Mendham, and in an accident lost the sight in one eye. In his early years he supplemented his income by designing posters at which, with is consummate draughtsmanship he excelled. He studied briefly in Paris between 1902 and 1903.
Munnings drew his subject matter from the East Anglian landscape and rural society. A horse fair of 1901 showed an early interest in horses while fairgrounds and rural occupations provided the artist with considerable subject matter. 1910 saw Munnings visit Lamorna in Cornwall where he met Laura (1877-1970) and Harold Knight (1874-1961), lifelong friends, and where he stayed between 1911 and 1916. In 1913 he held his first one-man show at the Leicester Galleries, where Laura Knight, DBE, RA showed.
In 1918 Munnings was appointed as a war artist with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, producing an important body of work for the Canadian Government. Munnings settled in Dedham in 1918, marrying Violet in 1920. He was elected Royal Academician in 1925, to the RWS in 1929, in 1944 Munnings was knighted and elected President of the Royal Academy between 1944 and 1949. In this latter role he famously made known his utter contempt for ‘Modern Art’. Munnings was a prolific artist and a consummate draughtsman, whose work as a war artist raised his profile and reputation. Best known for his equestrian works, portraits and racing works, Munnings range was enormous. He excelled in landscape and scenes of rural life, recording a way of life that was coming to an end.
His works are in the collections of HM the Queen, J. Mitchell Chapman, Lord Fairhaven and Major Sir Reginald Macdonald Buchanan. His works can be found in museums in: Birmingham; Liverpool; London, Tate Gallery; Norwich; Preston; USA, Yale University; Brisbane and Melbourne.