A classic work by celebrated equestrian artist Sir Alfred Munnings is going up for auction for the first time in its life next month, and could fetch up to £2 million.
On July 11, as part of the Classic Week in London, Christie’s will offer The Bramham Moor Hounds at Weeton Whin. The piece was commissioned by Henry Lascelles, the 6th Earl of Harewood and husband of Princess Mary, The Princess Royal, daughter of King George V, showing his local hunt. The painting was executed in the hunt’s kennels and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1928.
Experts at Christies estimate it will fetch between £1.5 million and £2 million.
Pictured in the work, from left to right are George Gulliver, Whipper-in, on Boston, Ted Short, Huntsman, on Compton, and Will Beecham, Second Whipper-in, on Dan.
In The Second Burst, the second volume of his autobiography, Munnings recalls the commission for The Bramham Moor hounds: “Lord Harewood had asked me to paint the Bramham Moor Hounds. My picture was of the pack passing by … The canvas, 60 by 40 inches, was kept at the kennels; I began and finished the picture there.
Short, the huntsman, a character, took an interest in his own portrait. Standing behind me one morning, he said: “Look here Sir” – taking off his velvet cap – “I don’t have none of that nonsense” – pointing to the plain straight bow at the back. Having painted Gulliver, who wore a kind of bow with drooping ends, I had, without thinking, done the same to Short’s cap. Not approving of that style, he rebuked me, and asked me to put it right. “Well”, said I, “what about your horse? Don’t you think I have made it rather like a National winner? The grey you have been sitting on is not such a horse as the one in the picture.” “Oh!” said Short, “please don’t alter him. I’ve never been on such a horse in my life, and I’d like to go down to posterity well-mounted.” (A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, p. 225).
In 1921 Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood, had become joint Master of the Bramham Moor Foxhounds with Lieut.-Col. George Lane-Fox, later Lord Bingley; he married The Princess Royal the following year. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1928; Munnings had been elected a full member of the Academy on Derby Day in 1925.
The landscape behind the huntsmen includes the prominent feature of Almscliff Crag and was developed from the sketches Munnings painted near the house of Major Eric Fawkes, a descendant of Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, a major patron of Joseph Mallord William Turner.
Munnings had begun painting members of the Royal family in 1920 with the widely acclaimed portrait of The Prince of Wales on ‘Forest Witch’ (Royal Academy, 1921). A few years later Queen Mary commissioned The Ascot Procession crossing Windsor Park (Royal Academy, 1926), which depicted the royal family returning from the races, and in 1936 Munnings painted his only posthumous portrait, of the late King George V on his white Highland pony, ‘Jock’, in Sandringham Park.
Founded in 1740 the first Master of the Bramham Moor fox hunt was George Fox Lane (subsequently changed to Lane Fox), later Lord Bingley, owner of Bramham Park.
• Other equestrian works by Munnings at the Christies auction on July 11 include The Green Waggon (est. £300,000 – £500,000; Ned Osborne on ‘Grey Tick’, Zennor Hill, Cornwall (est. £150,000 – £250,000); Winter Sunshine: huntsman by a covert (est. £150,000-£250,000); and A high wind, Exmoor (recto) and Studies of Exmoor ponies (verso) (est. £15,000 – £25,000).
Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) was one of the finest British Impressionist painters of the 20th century. His life — which was spent mainly in Constable Country in the village of Dedham, on the Suffolk-Essex border — is reflected in a body of work that largely depicts rural scenes, racing and hunting, and most commonly his favourite animal, the noble horse.