Sir Alfred James Munnings P.R.A., R.W.S. (British, 1878-1959)
Landscape with sheep, Dedham signed 'A. J. Munnings' (lower left), oil on canvas 51 x 64cm (20 1/16 x 25 3/16in).
PROVENANCE: Believed to have been gifted by Munnings as a wedding present to Norwich furrier Michael Carr Warren and his wife Elizabeth Warren, 1942. Thence by family descent.
The lot is accompanied by a photocopy of a letter from the artist detailing the picture: 'Landscape with sheep is the picture: It is an old favourite of mine & will be a decorative style of thing for a room. - Hang it so that the light catches it from the side, that is on a side wall to a window not opposite - also thought that you might like the Sheffield plated candlsticks. Best Wishes, yrs. sincerely A. J. Munnings.'
John Constable, who grew up in the valley where this scene was painted, once wrote "These scenes made me a painter...Painting is another word for feeling. I associate my 'careless boyhood' to all that lies on the banks of the Stour" (letter to John Fisher October 23, 1821). Munnings indicates in his memoirs that he too felt this sentiment. This simple scene of a cluster of trees standing tall over the Stour river valley below. This scene may be in fact a slightly different view point from Constable's Dedham Vale (RA 1828, National Gallery Scotland) both showing the valley and distant farm with its red roofs. Constable shows a gypsy resting under the trees while Munnings chose to illustrate sheep quietly grazing.
Munnings was a devotee of Nature and he could look at a rural scene and become totally immersed in the beauty of it. Contrary to the trees in Constable's work that use the trees as a repoussoir element for spatial recession, Munnings' focus is on the trees themselves. Warm summer sunshine bathes the scene and he employs sparkling touches of pigment on branch tips, in the grass, on the sheeps' coats and to articulate the meandering river. His unwavering practice of painting en plein air enables Munnings to capture the balance between all the elements. Blue pigments from the sky are incorporated into the trees and shadows below making a unified composition. The dense architectural nature of the tree foliage contrasts with the wispiness of the foreground grasses enhancing the pictorial interest.
Munnings' profound love of Nature (which he spelling with an uppercase N out of reverence) and the fact the he had evolved from the 18/19th century landscape masters might make one interpret this scene as Munnings'commentary on Natures dominance over the influence of man tall formidable trees in contrast to the diminutive sheep and distant barns.
We thank Lorian Peralta-Ramos for cataloguing this work which will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne of Sir Alfred Munnings