Sir Alfred James Munnings P.R.A., R.W.S. (British, 1878-1959)
Return from the Fair signed and dated 'A.J. Munnings/1903' (lower right) watercolour 24.9 x 33.5 cm. (9 3/4 x 13 1/4 in.)
PROVENANCE: Acquired prior to 1920, probably by John McConnel, Manchester Thence by descent to The Duchess of Wellington Thence by descent to the present owner
In the first years of the 20th century Munnings painted scenes of rural life, which are poignant documentations of England prior to modern agricultural practices. Horses were not only an inseparable part of the landscape they were essential to that bygone life. Munnings repeated the theme of horses being led between pastures, travelling to and from fairs, or going home from the fields after a days work.
It has been said that Munnings' art was an extension of his life and being a son of a miller, he was intimately familiar with these agricultural labourers and their horses. Munnings has depicted a weary soul, slack in the saddle as he plods along on his bay mount who is nonplussed by the more spirited white horse.
The difference in the two horses' head carriage is telling. The robust white horse has its head raised and it is swishing its tail. One might assume that the flicking tail and the raised mane is from a sudden revolt against being led. Even its nose is sucked in which can indicate a temporary feistiness or even stubbornness. It is these individual traits that superbly illustrate Munnings' sound understanding of equine behaviour and this knowledge was used to great effect in later years in his renowned pictures of racing starts.
The present watercolour is a similar composition to the oil Return from the Fair (see Sotheby's, 13 March 1974, lot 50). Munnings would often record a scene in watercolour first as that medium allowed spontaneity to capture the transient light effects and movement.
Munnings was a successful watercolour painter and exhibited regularly at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour from 1899-1906 (R.I.) and at the Royal Society of Watercolour Painters (R.W.S.) from 1921-1937.
As the present work eloquently illustrates, Munnings was a master at revealing the individual personalities of his horses. No subject regardless of how simple or aristocratic was just 'a person sitting on a horse' or just 'a horse carrying a rider'. Each one is a specific individual horse. Even though this appears to be a charming rural scene, it can be seen as an insightful portrait of two working horses.
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.