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Art: Paint Blush

2 minute read

Alfred James Munnings is a hearty, blue-eyed, English country gentleman who breeds horses for his own amusement, paints them for the pleasure of other British sportsmen like himself. Born in Suffolk 60 years ago, a farmer’s son, he studied art in Paris, went home when he was 19 to show his first three pictures (country scenes) at the Royal Academy. Soon after, he started to paint horses and prospered on the fat commissions handed him by the horse-loving.

Munnings has long been reckoned one of the great painters of modern England. His 45 paintings of Canadian Cavalry, done while he was attached to the Army in France in 1917-18, now hang in the National Gallery of Canada. His painting of the late King George V, riding to a shoot in plus fours and gaiters on his little grey pony, Jock, was commissioned by Queen Mary. On Derby Day, 1925, Munnings became a member of the Royal Academy. In his work, as in his life, he is tweedy and correct.

Typically English was Artist Munnings’ liverish outburst last week in Suffolk, the county of his birth. At Bury St. Edmunds, 87 miles from London, where the Magna Charta was drawn up, Mayor Harry Isaac Jarman prepared to open a Munnings exhibit. Of the 61 canvases he had gathered, 15 were recent paintings of blue-blooded hunters and racers lent by the artist, seven were early studies of country horses lent by the city of Norwich. To the seven, Munnings made violent objection: six were “childish beginnings” that he had outgrown, one he had not even painted. He insisted that all seven come down.

Instead, Mayor Jarman (himself a professional photographer and restorer of paintings) locked the doors of the room where the pictures were hung, imprisoning the artist’s raincoat and lunch. Munnings retired, red-faced, returned presently with a motor lorry, demanded his own 15 can vases. Onto the lorry he was allowed to load them and away he rumbled.

The exhibit opened on schedule without Munnings. Said he indignantly: “I could not trust myself to be there without shouting out my protest. Having blushed once at my young efforts, I have now to blush again. . . .”

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