Sir Alfred Munnings KCVO PRA RI (1878 - 1959)
Young Herdsman at Mendham (1910)
Oil on canvas
Signed lower left 'A. J. Munnings / 1910'
Private collection, New Jersey.
Sotheby’s New York, June 9, 1989 no 372 ($45,000)
Artis Group Ltd. New York, NY
Private collection, Minneapolis, MN
Hillstrom Museum of Art. Animal and Sporting Paintings in the Penkhus Collection: The Very English Ambience of it All. Saint Peter, MN, September 12 – November 6, 2016. Illustrated pg. 18.
Gibbes Museum. Charleston Collects: British Sporting Art from the Penkhus Collection. Charleston, SC,
February 7, 2020 - October 4, 2020.
“Sporting Art-Thoroughly Modern Munnings,” Spur Magazine July/August 1991, p. 89
(Canvas) 26.5 in. (H) x 35 in. (W)
(Frame) 32 in. (H) x 42 in. (W)
During the first decade of the century, there was a national interest in the country’s rural life and its native people. This ‘Back to the Land” movement had begun at the end of the 1880s and continued through the Edwardian era. Various societies were founded and magazines such as Country Life were established to widen awareness of the treasures of what the countryside beheld. Country genre scenes appeared regularly at the Royal Academy and attracted a strong following. People tending to their animals, such as in this present work, was a popular theme at the time.
What is of particular interest in this picture is that the figure is almost indistinguishable from landscape. The brighter tones of the boy’s face that draws the eye away from the cow. This merging of land and figure had precedent a century and a half before and seen in many of the genre scenes by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), an artist whom Munnings greatly respected. Historically, this blending was to metaphorically reinforce how man was a part of Nature. Although there is no factual evidence that Munnings had this in mind when he painted this work, he was academically educated and would have been aware of past artistic conventions.
Munnings has painted in a low key and emphasizing the earthiness of the scene. The cow, nonetheless, is the true subject, as the artist has encircled her with incidental elements such as the form of the boy’s body and the light shades of color parallel to the bovine’s back. The artist has laid down brilliant white patches on her back, yet sensitively highlighted the tip of the ear and horn. The care taken with these select strokes greatly contrast with the fluidity of the rest of the canvas.
There are many bovine subjects in Munnings’ oeuvre, but brown and white cows featured as early as 1902. Despite being known as an equestrian artist, he proclaimed in his memoirs that cows were a better subject to paint. In Cornwall between 1911 and 1914, he had even purchased a cow to paint.