Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959)
oil on canvas
signed `A J Munnings’ (lower right)
21 x 32½ inches (53.4 x 83 cm)
‘I am standing on the course – the most beautiful course in the world: cloudless October sky, a faint wind from the east… I am looking at the scene, the old, old scene – a centuries old scene. Horses come up the course looking like those of years ago… bright colours in the sun just the same as of yore… what a sight for the artist! With the long shadows and the lights on the boots, lights on the horses…this is the best picture I have ever seen…’. (Alfred Munnings, The Finish. 1952, pp. 216 – 17).
Munnings had become resistant to the commissioned work that he felt so constrained his freedom, but more importantly, after the war, he was living again at his country house in Dedham – close enough to the racecourse at Newmarket to allow him to visit regularly throughout the racing season. His favourite subject matter was The Start, combining all the hopes and dreams that it entailed for many watching on.
One of the oldest racing venues in England, hallowed by Royal sponsorship, dating to the 17th Century, Newmarket’s courses were open to the sky and the expansive heathland in a way that newer tracks closer to London were not. In addition to watching three or four races a day, as he often did, Munnings kept a studio right at the track (through the courtesy of the Jockey Club) in an old rubbing barn. As he wrote in 1952, the subject of the present picture held a particular fascination for him ‘Each start was a fresh picture for me, as they have been, meeting after meeting, year after year.’ (ibid Munnings, p.207).