Works by Sir Alfred Munnings feature in auction of sporting art

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Huntsmen with hounds, Zennor Hill, Cornwall, by Sir Alfred Munnings.
Huntsmen with hounds, Zennor Hill, Cornwall, by Sir Alfred Munnings, is expected to sell for between £600,000 and £800,000 at auction in London.

Several important works by famed equestrian artist Sir Alfred Munnings lead a sale of sporting art at Christies auction house in London next week.

In the Field: An Important Private Collection of Sporting Art is a curated collection of works representing more than 300 years of the history of the genre, with works portraying racing, hunting and shooting.

Expected to top the sale is the Munnings piece Huntsmen with hounds, Zennor Hill, Cornwall, with a pre-auction estimate of between £600,000 and £800,000 ($US774,000 and $1.03 million). It is being sold by Dr Charles F Bunting, whose family bought it at a Christies auction in London in 1993.

Another Munnings work, A Start at Newmarket, is estimated to bring between £400,000 and £600,000 ($US516,000 – $US775,000). This piece was acquired by its present owner in 1996, and was previously bought at Munnings’ 1938 exhibition by L. Morris.

A Start at Newmarket
A Start at Newmarket by Sir Alfred Munnings.

The sale includes early 18th century works by Thomas Spencer and James Seymour; a superb collection of paintings by John Frederick Herring Senior, alongside works by John Ferneley, Samuel Henry Alken, Heywood Hardy, Archibald Thorburn and David Shepherd.

Brandon Lindberg, a Christies director and senior specialist, said the genre thrived throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and even into the 20th century, because “sporting pictures celebrate the environment people lived in — the English landscape — and that has always been a subject of great enthusiasm.”

Lindberg said the genre’s big names, such as Stubbs and Munnings, have consistently done well at auction. “But it’s at the middle and lower end of the market where the best opportunities for a potential collector lie. Works by relatively little-known artists are available at very reasonable prices.”

Discussing the artists featured in the upcoming sale, Lindberg said “one might call Munnings the last, great British sporting artist. No account of the genre is complete without him.”

After serving as a war artist, recording the activities of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in France during the First World War, Munnings made a career out of horse-racing pictures and hunting scenes. As is clear from works such as A Start at Newmarket  (1937), his style and subject matter were strongly influenced by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas (who had also painted racing scenes).

Munnings particularly liked to capture that moment of hushed tension just before the race’s start, as the jockeys in their brightly coloured silks prepare for the eruption of energy and excitement.

He said John Ferneley Senior (1781-1860) was not quite in the league of Stubbs, but was still one of the country’s top equine artists. The sixth son of a Leicestershire wheelwright, Ferneley moved to London to study at the Royal Academy School, before returning to his home county and settling in Melton Mowbray.

According to Lindberg, John Frederick Herring Senior (1795-1865) “was one of the most interesting sporting artists.” He started out as a coachman on routes between London and Yorkshire, painting only in his spare time. In due course, he settled in Doncaster — one of the stops on his drives — and became an artist full-time, painting the horses of numerous Yorkshire families.

Among his best-known works are those of the winners of prestigious horse races, such as the St Leger Stakes and the Derby, which he attended each year.

In 1845, he was asked by Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, to paint the monarch’s two favourite horses. The resultant painting, Tajar and Hammon, was given to Victoria as a birthday present and forms part of the Royal Collection today.

Much like Stubbs, Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935) was a supreme observer — however birds rather than horses were his specialist subject. He made frequent and extensive tours across the British Isles, seeking ornithological subjects to study.

Often this crossed over into sporting scenes, says Lindberg. “In images of driven grouse, for example. He created watercolours in the field, and they have a remarkable sense of immediacy because of this.”

Named a Royal Academician while still in his 20s and knighted while in his 40s, Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) “was nothing short of a virtuoso,” says Lindberg. Perhaps the most enduring reminders of his talent are the four bronze lions on London’s Trafalgar Square, which he modelled.

A favourite of Queen Victoria, Landseer made his name with pictures of stags, horses and dogs that exhibit very human behaviours. The cut-and-thrust of his hunting scenes owed a clear debt to those of the Flemish master, Peter Paul Rubens, from 200 years earlier.

John Emms (1843-1912) began as a studio assistant to Frederic, Lord Leighton, before striking out on his own as an animal portraitist. He was praised for the vitality and individuality of his subjects, and particularly renowned for his dogs. Often these were hounds, boasting a remarkable range of freshness/tiredness and depicted with confident, fluid brushstrokes. Emms was a keen huntsman himself and regularly went out with the packs of the New Forest area, where he lived most of his life.

More information on the sale can be found here.

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