Sir Alfred Munnings, (1878 – 1959) was one of the greatest impressionist painters of the 20th century. Most famous for his equine works, he also produced skilled portraits and landscapes with his rural scenes being some of the most celebrated across the world.
1. Sir Alfred Munnings was born and raised in Suffolk.
Sir Alfred Munnings was born on 8th October 1878 at Mendham Mill, Mendham, in Suffolk. His life was spent in the depths of Constable Country, around the village of Dedham on the Suffolk-Essex border. This rural upbringing is reflected in his work which frequently saw rural scenes, hunting, racing and was largely based around horses.
Munnings in his studio, c 1908, copyright of the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex
2. Munnings was a war artist.
Following an accident at only 20 years old, Munnings suffered from blindness in his right eye. Whilst this did not affect his determination to paint, it did ensure that he was deemed unfit to fight in World War One. This resulted in Munnings instead being given a job processing tens of thousands of Canadian horses as they were sent to the front lines in France. Although Munnings was unable to fight, he was employed as a war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and painted many scenes throughout the war, including a portrait of General Jack Seeley which is now displayed at the National Gallery of Canada. The Canadian Forestry Corps invited Munnings to tour its work camps in France throughout 1918, where he produced paintings and drawings of life on the front line. In 2019, The Munnings Art Museum in Dedham exhibited a number of paintings on loan from the Canadian War Museum in Ottowa, along with the sketchbooks from Munnings throughout the period which really illustrate the contribution of horses to the war effort.
3. Munnings’ first wife committed suicide
Munnings married Florence Carter-Wood, an artist and horsewoman, in 1912, however cracks in their marriage began to show early as she attempted to kill herself whilst they were on honeymoon. Carter-Wood was a part of the Newlyn School of Art and was based in Cornwall, which also led to Munnings’ close association with the group. With Munnings’ time being spread between London and Suffolk, Carter-Wood remained in Cornwall, where she went on to have an affair with a young Captain called Gilbert Evans and succeeded in taking her own life in July 1914. Munnings remarried in 1920, having met Violet McBride, who was instrumental in him accepting commissions from society figures.
Hot Toddy by Sir Alfred Munnings, signed watercolour, sold for £2,400 at Cheffins in May 2021
4. Munnings was president of the Royal Academy of Arts
Munnings was elected president of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1944 and remained in the post until his death. During his presidency, he was known to have attacked the Modernist movement, even initiating a police prosecution of Stanley Spencer’s ‘Scrapbook Drawings’ for obscenity whilst claiming that the work of Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso had corrupted art. Munnings was also made a Knight Bachelor in 1944 and appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 1947 New Year Honours.
5. The market for Munnings is as strong as ever before
Original artworks by Munnings are hugely sought-after, with the current record price paid at auction being 7,848,000 USD which was achieved in May 2004. His rural horseracing and hunting scenes remain the most celebrated and sought-after, with prices paid regularly reaching into the millions. His equine works were renowned the world over, leading to commissions from the likes of the Rothschild and Astor families as well as the Royal Family. Whilst original oil paintings are incredibly expensive, there is also a market for original pencil works, which see lower values but are still highly sought after, as are signed prints of Munnings’ most famous works.
November Morning, signed A.J Munnings, estimate £30,000 - £50,000 available at the Cheffins Fine Sale on 29th and 30th September
Cheffins will be selling an original oil painting by Munnings, titled ‘A November Morning’ (pictured above) from the Landwade Hall collection. The picture has an estimate of £30,000 - £50,000. To view the catalogue entry, click here.
Anyone looking to find out more about Sir Alfred Munnings should visit The Munnings Art Museum at Castle House in Dedham, which was his home until his death in 1959. The Museum holds around 150 of Munnings’ paintings and drawings, some of which are on loan from other institutions or private collections.