Sir Alfred James Munnings P.R.A., R.W.S. (British, 1878-1959)
The Sound of the Motor Car signed and dated 'A.J. MUNNINGS 1902' (lower left) oil on canvas 25.5 x 51 cm. (10 x 20 in.)
PROVENANCE: Mrs Pearse Probably Sale; Christie's, London, 20 September 1946, lot 28 (The Old Hunter), where purchased by The Fine Art Society, London (55 gns) Private Collection, U.K.
This is the oil version based on the watercolour entitled The Frisky Pony (sold Christie's, New York, 27 January 2010, $122,500) and another version called The Sound of the Motor Car which is reputed to have been in the collection of the Munnings Museum at Castle House in the early 1990s.
The turn of the century brought many changes to rural life, most significantly machine power and associated noise. Munnings often painted scenes of real life scenarios that he had experienced, so it is highly likely that he witnessed a pony who had been surprised and frightened by a passing motor vehicle. Obviously, the incident left such an impression on Munnings that he recorded the horse's behavior twice in watercolours and once in oil, each time altering the background.
Startled, the pony does what looks like a dressage 'courbette' movement rearing up and then jumping on its hind legs. The occasion is further complicated by huntsmen in the background on the right and perhaps the old hunter, given an excuse to bolt, has memories of the excitement when he too was out hunting.
Munnings was only twenty-five when he painted this present work but nonetheless he had already achieved a perceptive eye for composition. The canvas is filled with repetitive elements that increase the overall harmony of the composition. The wheel spokes are echoed by the skeletal-like leafless branches of the distant tree behind the driver. The line of the reins from the man's hands to the saddle rings on the pony's back and the cart's shaft, form a wedge-shape that is repeated in the triangular slope of the bank of foliage on the right. The zig-zag line of the man's form and rug over his legs is continued and mimicked by the pony's bent legs. The man is silhouetted against the light sky while the white pony stands out from the darker foliage. The man's solid and hunched form is juxtaposed by the lightness and springy antics of the unruly pony.
What appears to be a charming depiction of rustic horse power can also be Munnings' commentary of modernization and mechanization upsetting the tranquil rural existence at the turn of the century. Munnings never learned to drive and it is reputed that he often shook his fist in the air when planes flew over his home in Dedham. He thoroughly disliked any change to his beloved native landscape.
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.