Racing artist’s war horses return to UK for special show

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Detail from Sir Alfred Munnings Halt on the March by a Stream at Nesle. 
Detail from Sir Alfred Munnings Halt on the March by a Stream at Nesle. © Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum

The war-time work of famed equestrian artist Sir Alfred Munnings is going on show for several months at Britain’s National Army Museum.

Munnings was one of Britain’s most celebrated equine artists. The exhibition Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918 features more than 40 original paintings from his time with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.

Displayed together in England for the first time in a century, the impressionist paintings cover equine subjects, portraiture and pastoral landscapes. They highlight the role of horses in military operations, capturing their beauty in the war-affected landscapes of France in 1918.

Major-General The Right Honourable Jack Seely, 1918.
Alfred Munnings spent two months with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade – commanded by maverick MP, JEB ‘Galloper Jack’ Seely – until the German offensive began in March 1918. © Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum

Munnings was just finding fame as a portraitist and painter of British rural life when the First World War broke out in 1914. Blind in his right eye, he was denied a role in the Army on medical grounds. But, in 1918, he seized the opportunity to go to France as an official war artist working for the Canadian War Memorials Fund.

Munnings provides an insight into the men of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Forestry Corps.  In early 1918, he was embedded with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, an army comprised largely of citizen soldiers fighting on the Western Front. The Canadian War Memorials Fund was created by Lord Beaverbrook to document and memorialise the Canadian war effort at home and overseas through paintings and sculpture.

Alfred Munnings at work, around 1914.

His paintings demonstrate both the important role of the cavalry on the Western Front and the vital work behind the lines that sustained the war effort.

Munnings’ wartime artwork was pivotal in establishing his success and securing his admittance to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1919.

The exhibition includes paintings on loan from the Canadian War Museum, as well as selected works from the National Army Museum’s own collection. It has been developed by the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa, Canada), in partnership with The Munnings Art Museum (Dedham, UK) and supported by The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation.

Racing’s Juddmonte Group is the local sponsor of the exhibition, and CEO Douglas Erskine Crum said it was delighted to support the unique showcase of works by one of the country’s finest equine artists.

“Munnings is well known for his paintings of racehorses, but this new exhibition provides members of the British public a first chance to enjoy his wonderful studies of the First World War.”

» Several talks and workshop are taking place during the exhibition, from November 30 to March 3, 2019. Scroll down this page to find out more.

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