Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S.
- Portrait of Miss Ruth Brady on Bugle Call
- signed A.J. Munnings (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- 33 1/4 by 39 3/4 in.
- 84.5 by 101 cm
By descent in the family (and sold, Christie's, New York, May 20, 2005, lot 116, illustrated)
Acquired from the above
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Munnings could have met Ruth Brady in Manhasset at Inisfada, the Tudor Rival home of her uncle, businessman and philanthropist Nicholas F. Brady and his wife Genevieve. While currently undocumented, the artist may also have visited her father, financier James Cox Brady’s country home of Hamilton Farms, spreading over 5,000 acres of green fields and deep woodlands in Somerset Hills, New Jersey. By 1916, the estate boasted a lavish fifty-stall stable housing a variety of breeds from Clydesdale and Percheron draft horses to Hackney ponies and hunters, tempting models for the celebrated artist of equines. Ruth Brady was an accomplished equestrienne and, as a young teenager, her name frequently appeared in local newspaper reports for winning racing cups and earning show points with Tip Top, and Sweet Lady, among other horses of the Brady stables. She would later become a frequent hunter with the Essex Foxhounds. While Munnings’ portrait of Ruth’s brother James Cox Brady, Jr. on Galty Boy (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven) dates from 1924, Portrait of Miss Ruth Brady on Bugle Call may have been completed in following years, perhaps after the artist returned to England. At the time of Munnings’ visit to America, Ruth was fifteen years old, whereas the poise and maturity displayed in the present work suggest a young woman. Perhaps Ruth’s portrait was painted closer to 1927, the year it was published in the Illustrated Sporting News. No matter where or when the portrait was painted, the family’s appreciation of Munnings’ talent is reflected in their choice to reproduce it in the notice of Ruth’s engagement to Michael Simon Scott, the son of Viscount Encombe and his wife, the daughter of the 15th Baron Lovat. The relaxed elegance of Ruth riding in a lush summer landscape was the ideal announcement preceding her fashionable wedding on New Year’s Eve 1928, the guests travelling to New Jersey on a special train chartered for the occasion (fig. 1). The Associated Press distributed news of the ceremony across the country, with The Los Angeles Times reporting “Miss Brady, who is heir to part of her father’s $75,000,000 estate, will be the second of the family to marry in the British Peerage” (her father’s second wife was Lady Victoria May Perry, daughter of the Earl of Limerick) (The Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1928, p. 22). After their wedding, the couple traveled to England, making a home at Stockton House, Wiltshire, until Ruth’s return to America after Michael’s death in 1938; he collapsed after a half hour fight to land a sailfish off of Palm Beach.
Inspired in part by a long tradition of British portraiture of noblemen and gentry on their horses, Munnings’ most stylish and vibrant portraits like Portrait of Miss Ruth Brady on Bugle Call. brought him incredible success, which a reporter for the Pittsburgh Daily Post found “a surprise for he seemed so distinctly an individual of an old and settled civilization that one could hardly imagine him enthusiastic about painting an American subject so indigenously British” (Penelope Reed, “Artists Known Here are Active in Many Sections of Country,” The Pittsburgh Daily Post, Juy 13, 1924, p. 9). Though asked to compare the two countries and their pictorial traditions, the artist refused “a contrast between English and American atmospheric effects in landscape, in human details” rather he "was mainly impressed by prevailing elements of similarity” (Reed, p. 9). Indeed, upon returning home Munnings continued to paint Americans and their horses (many of whom traveled to him for the opportunity) not only for financial reward but for inspiration. Years after Portrait of Miss Ruth Brady on Bugle Call, Munnings captured her sisters Genevieve and Victoria in one of his favorite paintings Mrs. Helen Cutting and Misses Brady (1935, Private Collection, fig. 2), the compositional idea reworked in his Why Weren’t You out Yesterday, which featured his wife and her friends (1938, sold in these rooms, December 1, 1998, lot 7).