Monday, December 24, 2018

Sir Alfred James Munnings, KCVO, PRA (8 October 1878 – 17 July 1959)

Although Sir Alfred Munnings is very famous - perhaps best known for his paintings of horses - I did not know he was a WW1 artist.

Alfred Munnings was born on 8th October 1878 at Mendham Mill, Mendham, Suffolk, across the River Waveney from Harleston in Norfolk. His father, John Munnings, was the mill owner, and his mother was Ellen Emily, nee Ringer. Alfred had the following siblings:  William G., b. 1877, Frederick, b. 1881 and Charled E., b. 1885.

Educated at Framlingham College, at the age of fourteen, Alfred was apprenticed to a Norwich printer where he designed and drew posters.  He lost the sight of his right eye in an accident but continued painting. In1899 two of his pictures were shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  He was associated with the Newlyn School of painters, and in Cornwall met Florence Carter-Wood, a young horsewoman and fellow artist. They were married on 19th January 1912 but Florence attempted suicide while they were on honeymoon and died in 1914.

Alfred volunteered to join the Army when war broke out but was unfit for active service.  He was put in charge of processing Canadian horses destined for France.  Alfred was then posted to one of the Remount Depots on the Western Front, where he was employed as a war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, under the patronage of Max Aitken. During the war Alfred painted many scenes, including a portrait of General Jack Seely mounted on his horse Warrior in 1918 (now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). He also painted the Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron in 1918, in what became known as "the last great cavalry charge" at the Battle of Moreuil Wood.

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. The extent to which horses were used during WW1 is under-reported but horse fodder was the single largest commodity shipped to the front by some countries during the conflict.

In 1920, Alfred married Violet McBride. After the war, he began to establish himself as a sculptor. He was taken on by Lord Beaverbrook's Canadian War Memorials Fund and was given several prestigious commissions after the Great War.

His first public work was the equestrian statue of Edward Horner in Mells, Somerset, a collaboration with his friend Sir Edwin Lutyens, who designed a plinth for the statue.

Alfred was elected president of the Royal Academy of Arts and was made a Knight Bachelor in 1944. In the 1947 New Year Honours List, he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Alfred died at Castle House, Dedham, Essex, on 17 July 1959. After Alfred's death, his wife turned their home in Dedham into a museum of his work. The village pub in Mendham is named after him, as is a street in the town.

Note: The Army Remount Service was the body responsible for the purchase and training of horses and mules as remounts for the British Army between 1887 and 1942.

“Alfred Munnings War Artist, 1918” - an exhibition of WW1 paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings at the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4HT - from 30 November 2018 - 3 March 2019.

£6.00;  Concessions (incl. veterans): £5.00 | Students: £4.00 | Groups: £4.00 | Under 16s: FREE | Serving Army personnel (plus one additional adult): FREE

Subjects covered by the exhibition:  First World War, Art and Literature, Animals, Cavalry, Horses

Portrait of Alred in 1911 by Harold Knight.