London, The Grosvenor Gallery
London, Christies May 21, 1965 lot 139
Private collection, England since 1965
Munnings had a strong affinity with the gypsy people perhaps because of their free spirit and their great love of horses. In the early years of the 20th century, Munnings would go to local horse fairs and tirelessly paint the close Interaction between gypsy traders and their horses. In many of the scenes, Munnings chose a humorous incident, in which a horse dealer tried to show off his uncooperative horse to an interested buyer (The Horse Dealers, 1906, exhibited Saratoga, 2000, p 15).
In the present work, a gypsy is leading his horse at the trot to show off the fine points and the action of the sturdy mare’s gait at the same time proving that the horse is sound and not lame. The horse’s halter is typically made of linen, rather than a fancier leather one seen in later commissions.
The man and horse fill the canvas space in an uncluttered background, giving monumentality to the figures. The simplicity of the background which positions the figures in bas relief, not only draws the spectator’s attention to the horse as if we could be the buyer, but it also emphasizes the contrast between the light and dark elements. It is as if Munnings was in fact intentionally making an arrangement of light and dark sculptural forms.
Despite the simplicity of the scene, Munnings masters the challenge of reflected light. At first glance, the mare is grey but she, in fact, is comprised of a spectrum of colour. The underside of her neck and belly is composed of greens reflected off the grass and her flanks have tones of pink and blue. Munnings has adeptly applied impressionist colour theory to this early picture which became a hallmark of his work but was quiet revolutionary at the time.
Munnings had loved grey horses ever since he gazed upon the equine portrait of “Grey Horse –Orinoco” by J.Hobart, 1840 that hung in his family home. Early boyhood experiences reinforced this love of grey horses and left lasting impressions. “Grey horses were always my delight; my imagination stirred at the sight of them” (An Artist’s Life, page 15). Later as a budding artist, Munnings sought out grey ponies and horses, often borrowing them from neighbors and friends, and made them the subject of many early paintings –the first one appearing at the Royal Academy was in ‘An Old Favorite’ in 1900. In all of his works, Munnings used reflected colour with striking effect especially on grey equine subjects.
We are grateful to Lorian Peralta-Ramos for her assistance with the preparation of this catalogue note.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne of Munnings' work.
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