Munnings’ Early Years
Munnings was born in Mendham, Suffolk. He was apprenticed to Page Brothers in Norwich as a lithographer where he spent six years producing posters and advertisements and packaging designs. This helped him to develop his fluency in drawing.
During the six years of his apprenticeship he studied at the Norwich School of Art in the evenings. He had considerably more training than Herring or Stubbs and strongly believed in craftsmanship, schooling and the disciplines of the profession.
When his apprenticeship ended he worked freelance on posters and advertising and also began to paint horses, village characters, hunting scenes and landscapes.Embed from Getty Images
Drunk on Riding
Munnings was fascinated by horses (perhaps more than Stubbs or Herring) and they played a great part in his life. He would spend days out riding through the countryside.
“I was like a thirsty man let loose in a cellar: I became drunk with riding.”
He bought his first horse when he was 20 years old and from there on was never without a stable full of horses. Equestrian commissions brought him money and fame. He travelled around the countryside with eight horses, a donkey, a caravan, a cart and a stable boy. These all acted as his models.
World War 1
During the war he was official war artist attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade; he could not join the army because he lost the sight of his right eye after an accident.
His second wife, Violet McBride, was the daughter of a riding instructor and was the former winner of the Gold Cup at the Olympia Horse Show.Embed from Getty Images
In 1919, Munnings purchased Castle House at Ardleigh near Dedham in Essex and established his studio there. During his life he had 289 pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy and was elected president of the Royal Academy and knighted in 1944. In 1947 he was elected Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
Views on Modern Art
He was an outspoken extrovert who was violently opposed to modern art which he thought was a confidence trick on the public. His nostalgia for the past and condemnation of 20th century ‘progress’ emanated from his great and enduring love of the English countryside and the belief that the beauty of England was slipping away in a materialistic world where few cared.
Munnings’ fame is based on racehorse pictures but many consider his paintings of rural East Anglia, animals and human characters to be better. His critics suggest that while producing fashionable and lively work he was content to lazily follow the traditional pattern of the painter who works to commission and who produced paintings to satisfy a public with little knowledge of art. However, Munnings thought pictures were
‘to fill a man’s soul with admiration and sheer joy not to bewilder and daze him’.
Of his obsession with horses Munnings said:
‘Although they have given me much trouble and many sleepless nights, they have been my supporters, friends, my destiny in fact. Looking back at my life, interwoven with theirs – painting them, feeding them, riding them, thinking about them – I hope that I have learnt something of their ways. I have never ceased trying to understand them.’
‘Summer in February’ by Jonathan Smith (fiction)
(Check out your own bookshelves first – that’s where I found my copy of ‘What a Go’!)
Alfred Munnings Museum
I would highly recommend a visit to Alfred Munnings’ Museum at his former home, Castle House, in the beautiful village Dedham, Essex.
Visit the website for opening times and to see Alfred Munnings’ fine horse paintings.
Dedham is a fantastic place to visit for any artist, photographer or keen walker. After you have visited Munnings House Museum, you can stop in Dedham for a cream tea, walk along the banks of the beautiful River Stour to Dedham Vale, stop at Flatford Bridge Cottage and learn about John Constable.