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.
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.
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 . . .