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The Art of Sir Alred Munnings

12 February 2015
The sold out talk on Tuesday about the art of Sir Alfred Munnings was so popular that we have brought you something special on this week’s blog. A collaboration between the speaker, Dr Bill Teatheredge, Curatorial Researcher at the Munnings Collection and Jenny Hand, Director at The Munnings Art Museum. A selection of Munnings’ stunning paintings feature in our Main Gallery exhibition ‘The Horse at War: 1914 – 1918’ and his piece ‘My Grey Mare’ is so beautiful that we chose it to promote the exhibition on our marketing literature. If you haven’t see the exhibition yet, make sure you visit soon as it closed on 1 March 2015.

Sir Alfred Munnings’ career spanned almost seventy years. From the closing decades of the Victorian era to the beginning of the nuclear age, Munnings witnessed enormous social and cultural change. He lamented the coming of modernism not only with the arrival of the automobile and airplane but also with the abstract changes in art.

Munnings’ art derived from the old-fashioned creative values of being able to observe and draw. From a young age he used just a pencil and his imagination to depict scenes of knights and of Native Americans. This skill was further developed through his apprenticeship as a lithographer in Norwich and by attending night classes at Norwich School of Art.

By the time Munnings set up his first studio in Mendham, Suffolk in the late 1890s he had already exhibited at London’s Royal Academy. Although blind in one eye, Munnings was an expert in colour, light and tonal values. He knew that his intimate knowledge of his pastoral surroundings, and his depictions of it, would provide him with an income.

Munnings travelled extensively to enhance his knowledge of art and techniques. He visited continental galleries, studied in Paris and was based in Cornwall with other well-known artists like Laura and Harold Knight. It was the First World War, however, that would be the making of him. With forty five paintings of the Canadian Cavalry hung in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1919, Munnings became a household name.

In the post war period he met Violet, his second wife. She took on the management of his affairs so that he could just paint. She also introduced him to wealthy and noble society.  Commission after commission followed in the 1920s and 1930s and for some critics this is a considered a repetitive period in Munnings’ work. What he did have the ability to do, like no other artist, was depict, exquisitely, equestrian subjects, capturing their rippling muscles and sheen of colour.

In his later years Munnings arguably became better known for his words than his work, when his opinions, as President of the Royal Academy, made him the scourge of Modern Art. Exiled from his beloved East Anglia during the Second World War, his landscape studies of that time, of Exmoor, are testament to the enduring historic influences on his art, of painters such as Constable.

Find out more about The Munnings Art Museum and The Horse at War: 1914 - 1918

Image credits: My Grey Mare © The Estate of Sir Alfred Munnings and The Munnings Art Museum, Dedham, Essex; Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), Patrick, 1914 ©The Estate of Sir Alfred Munnings and The Munnings Art Museum, Dedham, Essex’ ; Cavalry Charge Led by Lieutenant G. M. Flowerdew, VC © The Estate of Sir Alfred Munnings and The Munnings Art Museum, Dedham, Essex


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