413
413

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION

Sir Alfred James Munnings
A WINNER AT EPSOM 
Estimate
1,200,0001,800,000
JUMP TO LOT
413

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION

Sir Alfred James Munnings
A WINNER AT EPSOM 
Estimate
1,200,0001,800,000
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

|
New York

Sir Alfred James Munnings
1878 - 1959
A WINNER AT EPSOM 
Signed A. J. Munnings (lower right) 
Oil on canvas 
38 5/8 by 47 3/4 in.
98.1 by 121.3 cm
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

We would like to thank Lorian Peralta-Ramos for kindly assisting in cataloguing this work, which will be included in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Sir Alfred James Munnings. 

Provenance

Bond Street Galleries, London (acquired in December 1955)
Wildenstein & Co., New York
Dr. Charles Henry ("Doc") Strub, California (acquired from the above for the Los Angeles Turf Club on February 2, 1956 and sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 1, 1998, lot 1) 
Acquired at the above sale

Exhibited

London, Royal Academy, The One Hundred and Eighty-Seventh Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, 1955, no. 167
Bournemouth, Russell Coates Art Gallery, ‘An Artist’s Life’: Retrospective Exhibition of Works by Sir Alfred J Munnings K.C.V.O., P.P.R.A., L.L.D., 1955, no. 917
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Sir Alfred J. Munnings, 1962, no. 25 (lent by Santa Anita Park (Los Angeles Turf Club))
Fullerton, California, Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1984, n.n.
Newmarket, Suffolk, The National Horse Racing Museum, Sir Alfred J. Munnings: The Santa Anita Collection, 1998, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue
Saratoga Springs, New York, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, The Mastery of Munnings, Sir Alfred J. Munnings 1878-1959, 2000, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum of Art, Alfred J. Munnings from Regional Collections, 2008, n.n.
Middleburg, Virginia, National Sporting Library & Museum, Munnings, Out in the Open: The Open-Air Works of Sir Alfred James Munnings, 2013, pl. 50, illustrated in the catalogue

Literature

Connoisseur, November 1955, p. vi
Reginald Pound, The Englishman: A Biography of Sir Alfred J. Munnings, London, 1962, p. 206
"The Los Angeles Turf Club Collection," in California Thoroughbred, Arcadia, California, April 1997, illustrated p. 22
Charles Lane, "Ten of the Best by a Single Horse Painter," in Country Illustrated, London, August 1998, illustrated p. 111
Catherine Coley, "He Saw Silks Against the Sky," in Country Life, London, August 6, 1998, p. 57

Catalogue Note

Celebrated as the most brilliant and innovative painter of horses since George Stubbs, Sir Alfred J. Munnings returned often to the spontaneity of race day. He was struck by the colors and drama of the sport in 1899 when he attended country races at Bungay to celebrate his first two pictures being accepted to the Royal Academy. When Munnings was born in 1878, riding was not simply a luxurious pastime; horses were central to European life and his keen appreciation for the individuality and personality of each horse is foundational to his paintings, as can be seen clearly in the present work. His experience at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he studied in 1902 and 1903, and his travels on the continent exposed him to the Impressionists and plein-air painting, which he adapted to perfectly fit his style and equine subject.   

Few names are as synonymous with British horse racing as Epsom Downs, located southwest of London, home of The Derby—first run on May 4, 1780—and its sister race, The Oaks. By 1815, the Derby became part of the Classics, along with the 2,000 Guineas, the 1,000 Guineas, The Oaks, and the St. Leger. As the importance of The Derby in racing circles grew, popular culture demanded representations of this seminal race. Run on a Wednesday or Thursday to allow for easy transfer via the railways, Epsom Downs was transformed into an exciting fairground, attracting musicians, clowns and others who entertained the crowds. William Powell Frith’s 1858 Royal Academy submission The Derby Day (see fig. 1) was a panorama of this carnival-like atmosphere. The lure of equestrian events such as racing and polo, with their unique swirl of human and animal models, continued into the twentieth century, appealing to both British and American artists and buyers.  Dame Laura Knight— whom Munnings painted alongside in Newlyn—came to the Downs and depicted A Dull Day at Epsom. In America, George Bellows was taken by the sport of polo, played outside New York City (see fig. 2), which he described as “an Alladin’s lamp sort of game… The players are nice looking… the horses are beautiful… it is a great subject to draw, fortunately respectable” (as quoted in Charles H. Morgan. George Bellows: Painter of America, New York, 1965, p. 115).

Munnings' compositions often focused on the intimacy of race day, from the energy of early morning exercising to the excitement and nervousness of saddling up and the pageantry of riding out to the start. Munnings remembered the execution of this scene in his memoirs:

"There is no saddling paddock like the one at Epsom... Since Epsom has been to me a source of inspiration from Grand Parade’s Derby onwards, I should be leaving a considerable gap if I did not write my own impressions of Epsom Races, as they are called in plain lettering on the race-cards of the meeting... For years and years, my next hurried move has always been to the grass Ring with the white rail, where the winner is led in. The surrounding pebbled enclosure is quickly crowded— everyone waiting to see the Derby winner. For a few moments this one particular animal occupies the thoughts of all who are waiting there. Such a race and finish has had the same effect of every looker-on. Nothing else in the world matters for the time being to those discussing it" (Sir Alfred J. Munnings, The Finish, London, 1952, pp. 220-23).

The composition of the present work focuses on the horse, potentially Munnings' own bred mare, Winter Rose, whose athletic prowess is on full display in the flush of victory. The horse remains animated, mouthing the bit and sidestepping the jockey as the girth is cinched to loosen the buckles and remove the saddle. Munnings' unerring eye has delicately highlighted the horse’s muscular form while conveying the winner’s temperament through the flared nostrils and pulled back ears.

This uncompromising portrayal of equine grace is contrasted with the impressionistically rendered punters gathered along the grandstand rails, their morning coats and top hats broadly painted in black, grey and yellow. The probable owner cheerily steps down the stairs toward the horse, who is held steady by a groom. The bowler-clad trainer, calmly holding a rug at left amongst the swirl of the winner’s circle, wears an irascible smile. The jockey wears the silks of Stanley Wootton (cerise, gold sleeves, blue cap). Wootton, who was Australian-born, garnered a reputation for training apprentice jockeys at Epsom. His best-known pupil was Charles Smirke, who broke the course record in the 1936 Derby on H.H. Aga Khan’s grey colt Mahmoud, whom Munnings depicted in Saddling "Mahmoud," The Derby Winner (see fig. 3).

Munnings exhibited his first version of this work at the Royal Academy in 1931, and his fondness for the subject is reflected by several variants, with slightly different dimensions and compositions, one of which is now in the collection of The Munnings Art Museum, Castle House, Dedham.

This work was previously hung at Santa Anita Racetrack, one of North America’s premier thoroughbred race tracks, which opened its gates to the public on Christmas Day 1934. The initial success of the track was due in large part to its co-founder Dr. Charles H. Strub (1884-1958; also the owner of lot 414), whose design encompassed top-notch racing and elegant surroundings, including an opulent Spanish-themed grandstand and clubhouse and formal English gardens with an English-style walking ring. In the 1950s, under the auspices of the Los Angeles Turf Club at Santa Anita Park, Dr. Strub determined to assemble a collection of sporting art to be displayed at Santa Anita Park.

Building his collection in tandem with New York art dealer E.J. Rousuck, Dr. Strub focused on the works of Munnings, especially those dating from the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the artist was President of the Royal Academy. Rousuck celebrated Munnings as "the last painter in brilliant tradition that wedded sport and society, man and animal, in vivid panoramas of the turf that recall the racing scenes of Degas, the lyric glimpses of stable and soil that evoke the English bucolic masters. He is the last English painter… to try to bestride a whole arc of experience" (as quoted in Joseph Baillio, "Munnings in America," in Alfred J. Munnings: Images of Turf and Field (exhibition catalogue), Wildenstein, New York, 1983, n.p.).

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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New York