Master R.P. Harvey on Ladybird is one of the earliest equestrian portraits by Munnings, painted whilst he was living in the Norfolk village of Swainsthorpe, having returned from training in the ateliers of Paris. Swainsthorpe lies five miles from Norwich and for ten pounds a year Munnings rented part of a farmhouse from a relative, where he built a studio. These early years in Norfolk were idyllic days painting the jovial dealers and their ponies at the horse fairs, and depicting the animals plashing across fords and grazing in the sunlit meadows; ‘During those years, Mendham village, its corners, by-lanes and meadows were my painting grounds. In or out of sight of a road or footpath, a canvas and an easel, with models posing as I worked, became an everyday occurrence. A passer-by said “Good morning”, but no more thought of staying to take a look than he would at a man cutting a fence.’ (Sir Alfred Munnings, An Artist’s Life, 1950, p.166) Painting expeditions of up to thirty or forty miles were made into the Ringland Hills and along the River Waveney in Suffolk, often accompanied by a group of seven or eight ponies and a donkey, a few grooms, a blue caravan and a cart loaded with canvases and painting equipment. We do not know the identity of Master Harvey - he is not mentioned in the books on Munnings. Munnings wrote ‘it would take a volume rather than a chapter to describe in detail the small commissions I received in my youth.’ (ibid p.178) It was painted in those care-free days before the horrors of WWI and captures an innocent age that was about to face a great challenge. It is likely that Master Harvey would have served in the war but records have not been found.
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