Sir Alfred James Munnings P.R.A., R.W.S. (British, 1878-1959)
The Start oil on board 40.5 x 50.7 cm. (16 x 20 in.) Painted circa 1950
PROVENANCE: With Bond Street Galleries, London (after 1956) E. Cooper-Bland, no.26 Sale; Christie's, London, 15 March 1985, lot 254
EXHIBITED: London, Royal Academy, Diploma Exhibition, 1956, no.250
Munnings had first been exposed to the thrill of horse racing in 1898. To celebrate his success for being included in the Royal Academy that year he skipped work, went to Bungay races and "plunged into the most vividly coloured phase of life I had so far seen...Such colour and action as I had never dreamed" (Alfred J Munnings, An Artist's Life, 1950, p.65).
Still drawn to the kaleidoscope of colour and action forty years later, he writes in his memoirs "...to my own profession and purpose seeing the visible beauty; the grouping, the movement colour, all dependent on the lighting, the sky" (Sir Alfred Munnings, The Autobiography of Sir Alfred Munnings, The Finish, Museum Press, London, 1952, p.182). This sentiment sums up the allure that racing held for Munnings and what in fact sums up Munnings' art colour, light and movement and why Munnings is the true virtuoso of sporting art.
Everything in this work alludes and emphasises the forward momentum. The horses have just broken into their gallop and in fact the last horse has only just gathered his power to surge forward as evidenced by the weight on its hind end, head up making the jockey sit deeply in his saddle. The runners are bursting into the empty space with legs extended toward the right. The long shadows and the sweeping bands of cloud cover encourage the viewer to imagine that the empty space will soon be filled with flashes of colour. Munnings frequently uses this skewed artistic arrangement, echoing Degas' ballet pictures, to trick the mind into filling the canvas space thus creating movement.
1100 pounds of hooves strike the track. Horses reach 45 MPH in 3-4 seconds and Munnings has captured this moment of acceleration as the starter' flag has dropped. This is as close as Munnings came to depicting an actual race with the one commissioned portrait of Saucy Sue winning the 1925 Oaks. The present work depicts the initial surge of power at the start as horses leap forward rather than the actual race itself.
This work will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Sir Alfred Munnings being prepared by Lorian Peralta-Ramos and we are grateful to her for compiling this catalogue entry.