Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S.
- The Belvoir Kennels
- signed A.J. Munnings (lower left)
- oil on canvas
Richard Green, London
Private Collection, United States
Norwich, Castle Museum, Loan Collection of Pictures by A J Munnings, RA, August-September 1928, no. 76
Middleburg, Virginia, Munnings Out in the Open, The Open-Air Works of Sir Alfred James Munnings (English, 1878-1959), April 24-September 15, 2013, no. 56
Lionel Lindsay, A J Munnings, RA, Pictures of Horses and English Life, London, 1939, p. 73, no. 33, illustrated
Sir Alfred Munnings, The Second Burst, London, 1951, illustrated p. 71
The commission of the Belvoir Hunt pictures was given to Munnings by Major Tommy Busch, who was the master of the Duke of Rutland’s hounds. Busch had been deeply impressed by Munnings' paintings of the Canadian Calvary Brigade, which he saw when visiting the Royal Academy’s War Records Exhibition of 1919. Busch invited the artist to stay and paint at Woolsthorpe over several months during the winter of 1920-1, writing in a letter “you shall have all the models you need—horses, hounds, men—all day and every day. You shall only have to say the word, and they shall be wherever you want them” (Munnings, p. 69). While Munnings had painted fox hunting scenes since the first years of his career (and was himself a skilled hunter and once a member of the Norwich Staghounds), before Belvoir, many of his works on the theme were of stoic men, mid-hunt in their pinks. Having liberal access to the facilities and hounds of the renowned kennels gave Munnings new opportunities for invigorating, artistic exploration. Indeed, the process of painting the present work is vividly described by Munnings in his autobiography: “I am working in the broad, paved sort of railed-off corridor between the two kennel yards, with several hounds in front of me. An old and ancient kennel-man, old as Methuselah, in a white kennel coat… This is a picture for gray days. Those beautiful heads of the hounds, their white chests, white flanks, and here and there a lighter-coloured [sic] specimen with more white about him. The whole thing making a pattern, the background—the archway through into the kennels—the octagonal roof with its clock in the tower above. And so all else is forgotten—I paint the hounds until the gilded hands of the clock show me it is just one o’clock” (p. 71-2). Among the animals Munnings encountered, one stood apart: Belvoir Wicklow, who Munnings remembered as “the famous stallion hound of the pack” and likewise stands out distinctly in the present work, the only animal with head forward in the center foreground (Munnings, p. 69).
The Belvoir Kennels was one of forty other paintings which came from Munnings’ winter at Woolsthrope, all of which were later exhibited in Pictures of the Belvoir Hunt and Other Scenes of English Country Life at London’s Alpine Gallery. The works met high praise and demonstrated, as the critic Paul Knoody explained, that Munnings “has taken a big stride forward in the direction of coherent design, colour emphasis, and constructive or form-giving brushwork.” (as quoted in Reginald Pound, The Englishman: A Biography of Sir Alfred Munnings, London, 1962; Claudia Pfeiffer, Munnings: Out in the Open, exh. cat., National Sporting Library & Museum, Middleburg, Virginia, 2013, p. 51). The success of the Alpine exhibition was extraordinary, its impact long lasting; a major purchase was made by Mrs. Payne Whitney, an American heiress and new patron; the exhibition also brought the artist a long-term contract with the firm of Frost & Reed for reproduction rights to many of his hunt and racing images.