Along with hunting and racing scenes, depictions of gypsies remained a consistent theme in Munnings's work throughout his career. Romany horse dealers and brilliantly painted gypsy caravans appeared as details in his work from as early as 1902. However, from 1913 until the 1920s, Munnings travelled to Binstead in Hampshire for six weeks each autumn to paint the itinerant workers who gathered there to pick hops. He was introduced to the subject by his friend Olive Branson, a fellow artist, who would travel to Binstead every September in a gilded caravan to paint the hop-picking activities.
From the beginning, Munnings was captivated by the colour and nomadic life of the gypsies and befriended many of the families. In his autobiography he recalled that 'more glamour and excitement were packed into those six weeks than a painter could well contend with. I still have visions of brown faces, black hair, earrings, black hats and black skirts; of lithe figures of women and children, of men with lurcher dogs and horses of all kinds. I still recall the never-ceasing din around their fires as the sun went down, with blue smoke curling amongst the trees. I think of crowded days of work – too swiftly gone.” (A.J. Munnings, An Artist’s Life, London, 1950, p. 287). Such an atmosphere is evoked in the present work depicting a family of gypsies gathered under a twilight sky near a campfire, from which rise vibrant flames and blue smoke.
We are grateful to Lorian Peralta-Ramos, the Curatorial staff at The Munnings Museum and Tristram Lewis for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.