According to Munnings’ autobiography Crossing the Ford
was the first of his pictures depicting horses watering at a ford in the golden glow of evening. The subject of horses watering or plashing through the shallows of a ford was one that fascinated Munnings and he produced a series of oils and watercolours between 1908 and 1911 of East Anglian fords. The watercolours Augereau and Shrimp at the Ford
(sold in these rooms 17 December 2015, lot 63) and Crossing the Ford
(sold in these rooms, 10 May 2012, lot 70) are among the earliest and include Munnings' colt Augereau which can probably also be identified as the white horse in the present picture. Augereau became the principle equestrian model for Munnings' paintings around 1906 when he was purchased by the artist from a horse-trader named Drake. He was named by Munnings after seeing a matinee performance of a play called 'A Royal Divorce' in which a character continuously exclaims, "I swear it on the word of an Augereau."
Driving the pony home after the theatre late at night, whenever the pony misbehaved, Munnings and his groom would correct him and exclaim, "I swear it on the word of an Augereau!".
Augereau, wrote Munnings, 'was the most picturesque of white ponies – an artist’s ideal. A white horse has been used in many pictures by many artists. Augereau’s name may go down to posterity as the last of his disappearing race to pose as a model for a picture.’ (
Alfred Munnings, An Artist's Life
Munnings painted three large oil paintings entitled The Ford, one of which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1911. Two of these pictures are now in the collections of Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum in Dedham. The finished painting to which they relate is now in the collection of Lord Lloyd Webber (Christie's, 12 June 2002, lot 6). The present watercolour depicts the same location, with the footbridge that appears in other pictures from the series. The picture probably depicts Munnings favourite groom Shrimp who was described as a young man who ‘slept under the caravan with the dogs, and had no family of his own, no family ties, no parents that he knew. This son of the wild went by the name of Shrimp... little did I dream that he would one day become for me an indispensible model, an inspiring rogue, and an annoying villain... He was a paintable figure... and the best model I ever had’ (op.cit. p. 207, 211, 217).