An early work by the renowned equestrian painter Sir Alfred Munnings is to be offered by Sloane Street Auctions on 27 April. Painted in 1910, the work is characteristic of Munnings’ early experimentation within the Impressionist tradition, and exhibits the expressive and loose brushstrokes favoured by the artist in his early career. Esteemed for his equine portraits, Munnings himself regarded cows as a superior subject to paint, and purchased his own to model for pictures between 1911-14. It was around this time that Munnings employed a young stable boy known as ‘Shrimp’, who modelled regularly for the artist, and may well have posed for the present work. Characteristic of the Edwardian revived interest in rural life and agriculture, the painting carries an estimate of £300,000-£500,000.
The work depicts a young herdsman in Mendham, not far from the artist’s Suffolk home at Castle House, Dedham. Emerging from the foliage in a moment of rest, the boy appears indistinguishable from the land, the earthen colour of his jacket and trousers suggesting the intrinsic relationship between the land and its agrarian workers. During the first decades of the century, there was a renewed national interest in the country’s rural life and its native people. Agricultural societies and magazines such as Country Life were established to broaden appreciation of rural life, and country genre scenes appeared regularly at the Royal Academy and attracted a strong following. It appears that the young Munnings sought to appeal to this interest, evoking a tender connection between land, animal, and man.
Despite being remembered as one of the finest equestrian artists of all time, Munnings proclaimed in his memoirs that cows were a better subject to paint. There are many bovine subjects in Munnings’ oeuvre, but brown and white cows featured as early as 1902. And though the title of the painting describes the farmhand, the cow is the true subject of the work. Encircled with incidental elements such as the form of the farmhand and the light shades of colour parallel to the bovine’s back, the cow emerges dramatically from the canvas. Munnings has laid down bright patches on brilliant white on her back, and sensitively highlighted the tip of the ear and horn. The care taken with these select strokes contrasts greatly with the fluidity of the surrounding brushwork, and suggest the sensitivity with which he treated his bovine subject.
Sir Alfred Munnings KCVO PRA RI (1878-1959) is one of the most highly regarded equine portraitists of all time, and was a successful artist in his own lifetime. Having earned several prestigious commissions from Lord Beaverbrook’s Canadian War Memorials Fund after The Great War, Munnings was later president of the Royal Academy of Arts, and his works remain in several outstanding collections including the Rothschild, Astor, and Royal collections. Works by Munnings perform consistently at auction, and in 2007 a new record of $7,848,000 was set for a painting by the artist.
The work comes from a succession of important American private collections, having passed through Sotheby’s New York in 1989, and has been exhibited at both the Hillstrom Museum of Art, and Gibbes Museum in the United States. The work is expected to generate considerable excitement amongst collectors and country enthusiasts, and is estimated to fetch between £300,000-£500,000. It features as part of an eclectic sale, offered alongside an important selection of works from five significant Belgravia collections. The painting will be offered on 27 April at The Cadogan Hotel. Sloane Street Auctions is open for viewings seven days a week.