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Sir Alfred James Munnings

 (1878 - 1959)
Sir Alfred James Munnings was active/lived in United Kingdom, England.  Sir Alfred James Munnings is known for equestrian genre, horse portraits, lithography.

Sir Alfred James Munnings

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, V

Sir Alfred James Munnings KCVO, PRA (8 October 1878-17 July 1959) was known as one of England's finest painters of horses, and as an outspoken enemy of Modernism. Engaged by Lord Beaverbrook's Canadian War Memorials Fund, he earned several prestigious commissions after the Great War that made him wealthy.

Alfred Munnings was born 8 October 1878 at Mendham, Suffolk across the River Waveney from Harleston in Norfolk. At fourteen he was apprenticed to a Norwich printer, designing and drawing advertising posters for the next six years, attending the Norwich School of Art in his spare time. When his apprenticeship ended, he became a full time painter. The loss of sight in his right eye in an accident in 1898 did not deflect his determination to paint, and in 1899 two of his pictures were shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.[1] He painted rural scenes, frequently of subjects such as Gypsies[2] and horses.

He was associated with the Newlyn School of painters.

Munnings career would be associated with equine painting. He used his art to depict horses involving in hunting and he painted racehorses.

Although he volunteered to join the Army, he was assessed as unfit to fight. In 1917, his participation in the war was limited to a civilian job outside of Reading, processing tens of thousands of Canadian horses en route to France—and often death. Later, he was assigned to one of the horse remount depots on the Western Front.[3]

Munnings' talent was employed as war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade under the patronage of Max Aitken in the latter part of the war. During the war he painted many scenes, including a mounted portrait of General Jack Seely Warrior in 1918 (now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).[4] Munnings worked on this canvas a few thousand yards from the German front lines. When General Seely's unit was forced into a hasty withdrawal, the artist discovered what it was like to come under shellfire.[5]

Munnings also painted Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron in 1918 (now in the collection of the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa).[6] In what is known as "the last great cavalry charge" at the Battle of Moreuil Wood, Gordon Flowerdew was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for leading Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) in a successful engagement with entrenched German forces.[7]

The Canadian Forestry Corps invited Munnings to tour their work camps, and he produced drawings, watercolors and paintings, including Draft Horses, Lumber Mill in the Forest of Dreux in France in 1918.[8] This role of horses was critical and under-reported; and in fact, horse fodder was the single largest commodity shipped to the front by some countries.[9]

The "Canadian War Records Exhibition" at the Royal Academy after war's end included forty-five of Munnings canvasses.[10]

Munnings was elected president of the Royal Academy of Art in 1944, a post he held until 1949. His presidency is most famous for the departing speech he gave in 1949, attacking modernism. The broadcast was heard by millions of listeners to BBC radio. An evidently inebriated Munnings claimed that the work of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso had corrupted art. He recalled that Winston Churchill had once said to him, "Alfred, if you met Picasso coming down the street would you join with me in kicking his... something something?" to which Munnings said he replied "Yes Sir, I would".

He was awarded a knighthood in 1944. He died at Castle House, Dedham, Essex, on 17 July 1959. After his death, his wife turned their home in Dedham into a museum of his work. The village pub in Mendham and a street is also named after him.


Biography from Red Fox Fine Art
Alfred Munnings was born in Mendham, Suffolk, England, on 8 October, 1878. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to Page Brothers & Company, a Norfolk lithography firm; he studied during the evenings at the Norwich School of Art. He had exhibited his work at both the Royal Institute of Watercolour Artists and the Royal Academy by the age of 21; in 1899 he sold Pike Fishing in January, which he had painted three years before, from the Royal Academy exhibition and went to the races to celebrate. The racing world, both on the track and off, inspired him, and in the following years he established himself as a painter of horses and related subjects. An accident deprived him of the use of one eye when he was in his early twenties, but he persevered; his work met with critical acclaim, including such subjects as flat racing, steeple chasing, foxhunting and Gypsies on the moors.

He made his living painting commissioned portraits of horses--hunters with their owners, racehorses with their jockeys and the like; he was considered second only to George Stubbs among British painters of horses. He was created a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order in 1944. He also served as President of the Royal Academy from 1944 to 1949; he resigned after his strong dislike for modern art and his utter lack of patience with those who did not agree with him on this point made his position untenable.

He continued to paint, although toward the end of his life his gout, which he had contracted at the age of 30, was so painful that he was unable to hold a brush. He also wrote a three-volume autobiography, consisting of An Artist's Life, The Second Burst, and The Finish. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy before, during and after his presidency, showing a total of 290 paintings there during his work and six more the year after his death.

Munnings died in Dedham, Essex, England, on 17 July, 1959.


Dolman, Bernard (editor). A Dictionary of Contemporary British Artists, 1929. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Antique Collectors' Club, 1981.

Graves, Algernon. The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work, from Its Foundation in 1796 to 1904. London, UK: S. R. Publishers, 1970 (reissue).

Jarman, Angela, ed. The Royal Academy of Arts: Royal Academy Exhibitors 1905 - 1970. Calne, Wiltshire, UK: Hilmarton Manor Press, 1985.

Johnson, J. and A. Greutzner. The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Antique Collectors' Club, 1976.

Lane, Charles. British Racing Prints 1700-1940. Overwallop, Hampshire, UK: BAS Printers, 1990.

Mackenzie, Ian. British Prints-Dictionary and Price Guide. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Antique Collectors' Club, 1987.

Mitchell, Sally. The Dictionary of British Equestrian Artists. Suffolk, England: The Antique Collectors Club, 1985.

Wingfield, Mary Ann. A Dictionary of Sporting Artists 1650 - 1990. Suffolk, England: The Antique Collectors Club, 1992.

Biography from

Born in Mendham, Suffolk, England, Alfred Munnings was the son of a miller. He was apprenticed to a firm of lithographers from 1893 to 1898 and studied at the Norwich School of Art and in Paris. There he was impressed with plein-air naturalism; this, together with his introduction to the racecourse in 1899, influenced the themes for which he became famous.

While in Mendham, Munnings painted many scenes of country life, particularly horse fairs. He went to Cornwall in 1908, and for many years was an important addition to the Newlyn School of artists.

When the First World War broke out, Munnings enlisted, despite having the use of only one eye owing to an accident in 1899. He became an army horse trainer near Reading and later went to France as an official war artist, attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

The year 1919 was a major turning-point in all aspects of Munnings's life; he painted his first racehorse, Pothlyn, the winner of the Grand National, and became an Associate of the Royal Academy. He met Violet McBride, whom he was to marry, and bought Castle House, Dedham, where the Munnings Memorial Trust maintains a permanent exhibition of his pictures.

Munnings's prolific career, spanning over 60 years, brought him honor, with election to the Presidency of the Royal Academy in 1944, a Knighthood in 1945, and a personal award from the Sovereign in 1947, when he was created Knight of the Royal Victorian Order.


Chisholm Gallery

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Reflections on the past: a self-portrait

About  Sir Alfred James Munnings

Born:  1878 - Mendham, Suffolk, England
Died:   1959 - Dedham, Essex, England
Known for:  equestrian genre, horse portraits, lithography