This fresh and vibrant painting of a huntsman leading his horse over a bridge captures Munnings's love of the rural and equine worlds and the increasing mastery of his brush. Painted in 1911, a few years after Munnings’s return from the Académie Julian in Paris, the painting is full of impressionist influences: the thick impasto, quick brushstrokes and the artist’s characteristic use of colour. Whilst the overall tone of the painting initially appears earthy and muted, there are flecks of purple, vibrant blue and, of course, the striking crimson of the huntsman’s coat all of which elevate and enliven the composition.
By this date Munnings had begun to establish a reputation for himself as an artist, regularly exhibiting at the Royal Academy, Norwich Art Circle and other local galleries and he was already building a growing base of collectors in Norfolk, such as Charles Bunting and James Hardy. The present work was probably purchased from the 1911 Norwich Art Circle exhibition by Russell Colman, a prominent local businessman and a notable patron of the arts. It has remained in the family ever since, although it was lent to the artist’s Royal Academy retrospective in 1956.
In Munnings’s eyes one of the main benefits of his artistic success was that it allowed him enough income to keep horses, including the bay mare depicted in this work. The horse was later to accompany him to Cornwall and features in a number of his paintings of Zennor. However, in 1911 Munnings was regularly hunting with the Norwich Staghounds and his love of the sport was growing. ‘Hunting became part of my life, and I saw many things on those days: bright winter sunlight on clipped horses and scarlet coats; on bare trees; stacks; on farmhouse gables; the riding out after a slight frost; the riding home with a frost beginning and a young moon in the sky; puddles already crisping over as I said good night to friends. Such were needed to freshen my mind and vision.’ (A.J. Munnings, An Artist’s Life, London, 1950, p. 258.)
The model for the huntsman was Munnings’s groom, George Curzon, a regular feature of the artist's paintings around this date. ‘George Curzon was the high-sounding name of my new groom at Swainsthorpe. Never was a master, calling himself an artist, better understood or served. Winter mornings and afternoons passed as, dressed in scarlet, he posed on a horse. At last I was seeing the colour of a scarlet coat in the sun, the sheen of a clipped horse, with the lighting on fences, tree-trunks, fields.’ (op. cit., p. 195.)
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.