Munnings, P.R.A., Sir Alfred James

Portrait of Dev Milburn

Portrait of Dev Milburn
Picture 2 of 26

British, (1878-1959)

Born in Mendham, Suffolk, Alfred Munnings was the son of a miller and farmer’s daughter. He showed talent for drawing at an early age which was developed when he became apprenticed to a firm of lithographers when only fourteen. At the same time, he began to study watercolour painting at the Norwich School of Art. In the early 1900’s he made several trips to Europe in the company of John Shaw Tomkins, an early patron. There he was greatly impressed with ‘plein-air’ naturalism, and this together with his first introduction to the racecourse in 1899, strongly influenced the subject matter for which he became famous.

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While in Mendham, Munnings painted many scenes of country like, particularly horse fairs, and after returning in 1904 from a trip to Paris during which he had studied at the Academie Julian, he began travelling around East Anglia in a caravan, accompanied by several ponies. He first visited Cornwall in 1908, and lived at Chywoone Farm at the top of Paul Hill in Newlyn, later joining Harold and Laura Knight at Penzer House, and then moving to Lamorna, where he rented a studio and stable. He was an important addition to the Newlyn Circle, as much for his charismatic personality as for his artistic activities.

When the Great War broke out, Munnings was intent upon enlisting, despite having the use of only one eye, due to an accident in 1899. He finally found a position as an army trainer near Reading, later going to France as official war artist attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

1919 proved to be a major turning point in all aspects of his like; he painted his first racehorse the winner of the Grand National; was made an Associate of the Royal Academy; met Violet McBridge, whom he was later to marry, and brought Caste House, Dedham, where the Munnings Memorial Trust maintains a permanent collection of his pictures.

Munnings achieved a blend of academic tradition with a liberated use of colour introduced by Impressionism. During his career of over sixty years of painting, he won both fame and honour, with his election to the Presidency of the Royal Academy in 1944, a Knighthood the following year, and a personal award from the Sovereign in 1947, when he was created Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian.


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