Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) was born in Mendham, Suffolk, to an East Anglian farming family. He first indicated his artistic talent during his apprenticeship to a firm of lithographers in Norfolk, where he studied at Norwich School of Art in the evening. By 1899, he had exhibited two paintings at the Royal Academy.
He was last in the line of prominent equestrian portraitists and is considered by many art critics to have been the finest sporting painter of the 20th century. He was President of The Royal Academy from 1944 to 1949.
After working as an official artist in the First World War, Munnings married and settled permanently at Castle House, in Dedham, Suffolk. Concentrating particularly upon equestrian work, he was so successful in what was, at the time, an unfashionable field that he rose from his relatively humble beginnings to become both a knight and the President of the Royal Academy between 1944 and 1949.
Munnings was an enthusiastic horseman and most of his greatest works featured either the racecourse or the hunt. His sporting scenes have developed a reputation as being amongst the greatest of twentieth century. He also painted very personal interpretations of the English countryside, as well as portraits, but these themes tended to be eclipsed by his tremendous success as a sporting artist.
Munnings’s reputation was always slightly tarnished for contemporary critics because of his very blunt, strong minded personality and his opposition to the abstract work which was becoming increasingly popular but, more recently, he has received the acclaim his outstanding work deserves.
With Stubbs and Herring, Munnings is one of a trio of the greatest sporting artists of all time. His best original paintings now sell for figures in excess of £1,000,000 and a record price of £2,700,000 was paid for his painting Lord and Lady Mildmay of Flete with their Children at Christie’s in 1999. Munnings’s work is now on display at many of the most prestigious galleries and museums in the world.