We would like to thank Lorian Peralta-Ramos for her assistance in cataloguing this work, which will be included in her forthcoming Alfred J. Munnings catalogue raisonné.
Sale: Christie's, London, March 15, 1985, lot 251, illustrated
Richard Green, London
Private Collection, Pennsylvania
Private Collection, Connecticut
MacConnell-Mason, London, 1998
London, James Connell & Sons, Exhibition of Paintings by A. J. Munnings, Gipsies in Hampshire, 1920, no. 4 (as Costume Picture)
Alfred Munnings first encountered the large troop of gypsies and traveling farmhands who followed the harvests and horse fairs throughout the British Isles in 1913, when a fellow artist, Olive Branson, invited him to Hampshire for the annual hop-picking season. Two to three hundred gypsys, their families, and their animals camped around an immense meadow in Binsted, living in tents of every construction and elaborately decorated caravans that resembled rolling ships. For six weeks in September and October the adults and older children worked among the hop vines, gathering the bitter flowers used to flavor beer. The spectacle and the communal life style entranced Munnings, who returned regularly over a dozen years.
Hop Pickers dates from the years right after the first world war, when Munnings produced a number of elaborate pictures of gypsy life. Early on, he had befriended several of the most influential members of the ever-shifting community; his own easy manners and his willingness to pay models equitably gave him ready entrée to the tradition-bound travelers, whom he found difficult to know and sometimes very trying. Horse and caravan subjects dominated Munnings' early gypsy pictures, but as he became more accepted in the group, he sought out deeper truths in their lifestyle. He clearly considered himself accepted among the gypsys when he was able to persuade several of the older women to bring out the the brilliant shawls, boldly colored aprons, and flamboyant ostrich feathered hats that were special occasion wear for the women. Where The Gypsy Encampment (lot no. 114) is a rapidly rendered impression of a casual meal among farm workers, The Hop Pickers offers a much weightier study of carefully arranged members of another society. The erect postures of all three women contrast with the easy pose of the single man in the group (echoed in the wide-legged stance of the young boy tucked in the background). The strong forms of the women, emphasized by their bright, broad shawls or the jutting elbow of the central figure, are played against the echoing shapes of the more subtly colored trees in the distance or the sharply pointed tent. With the air of a formal conference among community elders, The Hop Pickers captures the deep-rooted dignity of a world at once colorfully eye-catching and ultimately set apart.
This catalogue entry was written by Alexandra Murphy.
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