There are hopes that publicity around a London exhibition celebrating the work of Sir Alfred Munnings could end the mystery around a missing painting by the celebrated British equine artist.
The show at the National Army Museum in London recreates the 1919 Royal Academy exhibition which featured 44 of Munnings’ paintings from his time as a war artist on the Western Front of World War 1 with the Canadian cavalry.
But one of the 44 paintings is missing.
Curator Emma Mawdsley says there are no records to show what became of the painting after the 1919 show.
The work is represented on the wall of the museum with an empty frame.
The catalogue from the 1919 show described the work as a portrait of Brigadier-General Paterson’s Mare, Peggy.
It is possible the work went to Canada, given that the brigadier-general was from there.
Munnings’ impressionist paintings in the exhibition 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.
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 composed 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.
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 chief executive 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.”
The exhibition, which opens on Friday, runs until March 3 next year.