Sir Alfred James Munnings P.R.A., R.W.S. (British, 1878-1959)
The haymakers signed and dated 'A.J.Munnings 1902' (lower right) oil on canvas 63.4 x 76.3 cm. (25 x 30 in.)
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, U.K.
EXHIBITED: Probably Norwich, Norwich Art Circle, October 1904, no.133
Munnings grew up at Mendham in the fertile Waveney Valley in East Anglia. His father was not only the most prominent miller in the valley, he was a successful farmer. Munnings recalls in his memoirs that "Hay-making time came around too quickly. All hands were called in for this, for my father made good hay. There were the rows made by the drag-rake, the cocks, the carting, the creaking of the wagons, and the making of large stacks in the stackyard...The cleared hayfields still scented the air as we played cricket on the pitch now open to us" (Sir Alfred J Munnings, An Artist's Life, Museum Press Ltd, London, 1950, p.35).
Munnings recorded a number of haymaking scenes but this and another titled Carting Hay (watercolour 8 x 11.5 in.) are painted from the closest vantage point. Unlike historic agricultural paintings the figures dominate the composition. Also following tradition, figures are seen at rest in the shade by the river echoing the 18th century concept that rest was a reward of diligence.
This painting is poignant in the realm of rural depictions. Traditional agricultural methods had seriously declined with industrialisation by the end of the 19th Century, but were resurrected in literature and art. Artists such as George Clausen and Henry Herbert LaThangue and other followers of Bastien-Lepage, conscientiously created permanent documentation of the vanishing ways of country life illustrating the hard work and industry that many rural occupations entailed. Clausen's Ploughing in Early Spring and other illustrations of rustic farmers at work became a focus of interest.
Inspired by this rustic naturalism, Munnings painted labourers cutting wood or collecting reeds, digging potatoes, hedging or making hay. In the present work, the soft, muted and earthy colours Munnings used for the figures reflect the intimate relationship that the labourers have to the land, almost as if they are part of it. This work and Woodcutting in October illustrate the true nature of the occupation rather than idealising it. Not only was this an artistic concept, 'truth to nature', Munnings made this authentic depiction of rural activities because he was so familiar with it.
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.