Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Alfred Munnings, Painter

Here is a nice little piece on Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), who until recently had been written off as a mere painter of horses, but was actually nearly as great as John Singer Sargent.

"In 1899, the year his first painting was accepted in a Royal Academy exhibition, the 20-year old artist was blinded in the right eye by a thorny branch while rescuing a puppy. Yet the skillful perspective of his work shows no trace of his monocular vision, nor visible anywhere is the crippling effect of gout in his hands, which tormented him, especially later in life.

In 1912 he married Florence Carter-Wood who, in one of the most bizarre acts of a newlywed, attempted suicide on their honeymoon. (She succeeded two years later, swallowing cyanide.) The exhibition includes two equestrian portraits of Florence. In the first, "The Morning Ride: Florence Munnings on Horseback" (1913), she's on a sprightly gray horse, her red hacking jacket enlivening the edge of the dappled woods through which she rides. In the second, "Portrait of an Equestrienne: Florence Munnings on the Grey Mare" (1914), painted just months before her death, she's dressed in black, the atmosphere is darker, and horse and rider are set against a leaden sky...

...At the outbreak of World War I, he repeatedly volunteered for service, but was rejected because of his blind eye. Eventually, he was posted to a Canadian Cavalry Brigade as a war artist in France. There, close to the German front in 1918, he painted in a single day an equestrian portrait of the unit's commander, Maj. Gen. Jack Seely, astride his charger, Warrior. It is one of the highlights of the exhibition. Dashed down in just browns and greys, it conveys not only the grim determination of horse and rider but also the cold bleakness of the shell-mutilated landscape of the Western front."

File:AlfredMunnings by HaroldKnight.jpg
Alfred Munnings reading aloud outside on the grass, circa 1911, by Harold Knight

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