In the Field: Browse the upcoming sale at Christies

Huntsmen with hounds, Zennor Hill, Cornwall

There are few really nice paintings in next week’s sale at Christie’s, “In the Field: An Important Private Collection of Sporting Art,”  that I wouldn’t mind hanging over my fireplace.

My top choices would be two by Alfred Munnings, described by Brandon Lindberg, a Christies director and senior specialist, as “the last, great British sporting artist.” Huntsmen with hounds, Zennor Hill, Cornwall, the which is expected to sell for between  $74,000 and $1.03 million. It was painted in 1913.

According to Christies,

During the years from 1912 until the outbreak of World War I, Munnings hunted with the Western Foxhounds near Zennor on the craggy, north coast of Cornwall. Munnings developed several hunting compositions at Zennor, set against the spring sky-line. Munnings was a keen huntsman and was often inspired by events he experienced. It is very likely that he saw this scene as he painted two versions of this composition with the huntsmen silhouetted against the horizon. At the time, Munnings used as models two grey horses Grey Tick and The Duchess, as well as a brown mare and a local lad named Ned Osborne. Osborne was according to Munnings ‘a primitive Cornish youth, a simple soul, who grew into a useful combination of groom-model, and posed for many a picture’. He features in almost all of Munnings’s hunting pictures from this period up until the First World War. ‘He had the right coloured face and figure for a scarlet coat and black cap. Often did this patient fellow sit as a model for me and he liked it’ (A.J. Munnings, op. cit., pp. 272-73).

What I love about the painting is that like most foxhunting scenes, it could have happened last week. Looking at that I want to jump on a plane and hunt that territory.

A Start at newmarket
A Start at Newmarket has the feel of a Degas painting with it’s bright colors and it’s moment of transition between stillness and motion. At Newmarket, where the painting was executed, Munnings was given special permission by the clerk to position his car at the post and he kept his own horse box as a studio.

My next choice, A Start at Newmarket, is estimated to bring between $516,000 – $US775,000. This piece was acquired by its present owner in 1996, and was previously bought at Munnings’ 1938 exhibition by L. Morris. In this painting, not only do you see the influence of Degas in the subject matter and the colors, but you can also see the impact of photography in the way the painting is framed, or cropped. Munnings thought Newmarket to be the most beautiful racecourse in the world and he enjoyed being part of the tradition of Wootton, Seymour and Stubbs in the first half of the 18th century.

Alfred Munnings
Munnings was never much of a studio painter. He preferred painting en plein air.

Munnings came by his admiration for horses during his childhood, where he sketched them at his parents’ mill. When the First World War broke out, Munnings volunteered for service. The combination of being blind in his right eye (from an accident at age 20) and his love of horses, led to him taking on the civilian job processing tens of thousands of horses as they headed to the front lines in France. Later, he was posted to the Western Front, where he worked at a horse remounting depot, before being commissioned as an official war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

An avid foxhunter and racing fan, when he returned from the War he became renowned for his equestrian and sporting paintings, attracting patrons on both sides of the Atlantic, with his paintings capturing both the beauty of Britain’s pastoral life and his sadness over it’s disappearance.

Too bad I don’t have an extra million lying around . . .

6 thoughts on “In the Field: Browse the upcoming sale at Christies

  1. I’ve ALWAYS loved Munning’s work. I’m one of those people who insist on realism in artwork…not for me the ‘impressionist’ stuff, never mind “modern””art” (e.g. the most recent atrocity being a fresh banana, duct taped to a piece of canvas, selling as “””””Art””” for mucho mucho dinero.) Munning’s horses breathe on canvas. The above, with the grey, oh dear the only thing I object to is the docked tail on the grey. I know, I know…that was the style, the idea behind being that docking the tail ‘strengthened the back”. Now we know better.
    Well, I can assure anyone who is planning on bidding on the two above paintings has nothing to worry from me.

  2. There is a certain amount of Chutzpah in selling a banana taped to a wall for $125K that makes me laugh. Even better was the guy who pulled it off and ate it. I just wish that someone would pay me to be so brazenly commercial. But I don’t consider that art, just performance.

  3. It’s not art to me, either. To me, it’s snobbery. It seems the art is intended to give the artist the opportunity to sneer at me, to look down his or her nose at me and say, “If you don’t like it, it’s because you don’t understand it.” Well, I understand Munnings. I understand Richard Stone Reeves, I understand Our Martine (of Tails from Province Blog). I don’t understand Jackson Pollack or Van Gogh or anyone like that.

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