Lot 64
  • 64

Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S.

250,000 - 350,000 USD
125,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • An Exmoor Farmer
  • signed A.J. Munnings (lower right)
  • oil on panel
  • 20 x 24 inches


Leicester Galleries, London
Lord Blackford (acquired from the above, 1947)
Mr. John Mcdougald, Toronto
Sale: Waddington's, Toronto, November 26, 2001, Lot 189, illustrated
Richard Green, London
Acquired from the above


London, Leicester Galleries, "The English scene:" horses, racing, landscapes, and studies by Sir Alfred James Munnings P.R.A., October-November, 1947, no. 61

Catalogue Note

Alfred Munnings’ wife Violet purchased a hunting lodge at Withypool on Exmoor in the early 1930s, providing a regular retreat for the couple. However, with the outbreak of World War II, their home of Castle House in Dedham was requisitioned by the army and the cottage became their permanent residence. Page after page of The Finish, the final volume of the artist’s memoirs, include descriptions of the joy and freedom of riding across the area’s dramatic moors, which inspired sunlit, peaceful paintings of untroubled rolling landscapes.  This was a welcome diversion from both the demands of Munnings’ celebrity and the global conflict. While in this period the artist continued to paint horses grazing in open fields, the area’s many flocks of sheep came to fascinate him.  As Munnings explained, “of the many sounds of Exmoor— running water, cawing of rooks, songs of birds, barking of distant farm-dogs— the prevailing sound in the spring is the bleating of sheep.  May it always be so!” (Sir Alfred Munnings, The Finish, Bungay, Suffolk, 1952, p. 102).

The inspiration for the present work came from the artist’s ride interrupted by streams of sheep passing along stone walls, herded by collies and a farmer in weather-stained clothes. Munnings employed local friend and farmer Froude Bawden as a model for An Exmoor Farmer and related compositions of the period. The artist first painted Bawden on his white pony, then turned to his flock, which the farmer and his wife drove through the yard again and again as the artist observed.  Other ewes and lambs were kept in a paddock, where Munnings sat and sketched, getting, as he explained, “sheep-minded” (Munnings, p. 103).  For Munnings, not only local farmers but also their sheep came to represent a way of life threatened by modern society.  In particular the scarcity of agrarian workers was concerning at a time when the nation's food supplies were of such critical importance. As he explained in an editorial letter to London’s The Times in 1948: “all children, rural or urban, should be taught the meaning of Nature and the soil.... The soil should be given its true place, which is the first, in Press, films and broadcasting, and in our thought and life…. One of the many reasons for the disappearance of our flocks is that no one wants to be a shepherd.... A complete alteration in education is needed to make us once more soil-minded if we are to live in a property and right way” (Munnings, p. 103-4).  In his mission to celebrate rural traditions, An Exmoor Farmer harkens back both in content and form to works painted in East Anglia during the early 1900s, such as The Plough in Early Spring (1901, see lot 65).  Yet An Exmoor Farmer, painted thirty years later, has an even greater immediacy, as Munnings captures his subject with daring and deft brushstrokes; one sheep blends into the next in their blurred rush, while more heavily applied paint and solid lines suggest the stoic nature of the herder. The artist’s free, impressionistic, and characteristically daring use of color seems to connect animal with the land: the mixing of blues and grey in the flank of the white pony reflecting the bright sky; the hints of buttery yellow and soft tan of the flock’s coats echoing the open fields beyond the wall.   

A masterful composition in itself, An Exmoor Farmer also likely inspired the artist’s Royal Academy submission of 1947, An Exmoor Shepherd. Returning home from Bawden’s farm with “the smaller picture,” the artist placed it next to a landscape of Oare (an Exmoor village) which he was working on concurrently. Seeing the two together moved him to combine both subjects into a larger composition (29 by 40 1/2 inches; 73.7 by 102.9 cm). Soon after exhibition, Munnings’ fear that “being known as a painter of horses, pictures of sheep were not saleable” proved unwarranted (Munnings, p. 105).  The Royal Academy submission soon sold for a “good figure to an American,” while the present work was quickly acquired by British businessman and magistrate Lord Blackford (Munnings, p. 105).