Sir Alfred James Munnings, PRA, RWS (British, 1878-1959)
Grey mare and chestnut foal signed and dated 'A.J. Munnings/1903' (lower left) oil on canvas 40.6 x 55.9cm (16 x 22in).
PROVENANCE: From the Estate of the late Betty Haugh Private collection, Australia
Grey horses and ponies feature among Munnings' earliest memories. In his autobiography, the artist recalls that having been away at boarding school at the age of four, his father drove a grey mare to collect him. Perhaps it was that happy occasion that instilled his life-long love of grey horses. Other grey horses and ponies are dotted throughout Munnings' childhood, leaving such a strong impression that he resurrected their memories almost seventy years later.
It is likely that the mare featured in the present lot is the horse purchased by Munning's father, when the budding artist was twentythree or twenty-four. At this time, Munnings was regularly exhibiting at the Norwich Art Circle and the prestigious Royal Academy, although there is no record of this work being exhibited. The date of the present lot indicates that it was painted in Mendham. The same mare and foal feature in the artist's Mare and Foal in a Field of Buttercups (1903).
The charm of this work lies in the depiction of the subjects' demeanour. The mare stands patiently under the rays of the summer sun. The distant blue sky suggests that the sun may be temporarily behind a cloud, so that its brilliance is only momentarily subdued. The warmth of the sun has lulled her into a state of total relaxation and contentment. Her eyes are half closed and her ears are turned back and loose. She is not bothered by the strong breeze that blows her tail almost to her side. Her mood is complimented by the flowing contours of the landscape and the peaceful setting in which she stands.
In contrast, the young foal is alert and looking at the world. His ears are pricked and his head is raised. Something has peaked his attention but the closeness of his mother is no doubt reassuring, as his stance does not indicate alarm. As there are other horses in the same field perhaps another horse is approaching. His momentary interest in the unknown is echoed by the jittery dashes of colour that indicate the pasture grasses around his form. Even his coat is rendered with more energetic brushstrokes than that of the mare. This aesthetic tendency to match the way an object is executed to the object itself can be seen throughout Munnings' oeuvre.
We are grateful to Lorian Peralta-Ramos for her assistance in cataloguing this lot. The painting will appear in her forthcoming catalogue raisonne of Sir Alfred Munnings.