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The Way of The Cloven Hoof
A Freelance visit to Sir Alfred Munnings' House

On one of those monsoonish days to which we have become accustomed, when the air and sky closes in and thunder reverberates, Freelance declared it a fine afternoon despite everything and foregathered at Munnings' House on the edge of Dedham.

An unassuming country house in pleasant grounds provides excellent viewing areas for a wealth of Munnings' paintings, surrounded as it is by stabling and pastures for the horses which were the centre of his work. All the stereotypical impressions of Munnings are probably true. He painted to a particular market and to a particular class... horse racing... riding to hounds... the landed gentry... the tipsy speech at the R.A. lambasting Picasso...

One of our members has described him as 'a first -rate pot-boiler', but he was a splendid painterly practitioner in oils. Some of his works look as if they've just left the studio. The light and shade on the velvety haunches of a stallion is captivating. Repetition throughout the collection wears a bit thin. Two pieces in particular struck our party. The portrait of the society lady in a red dress in a setting drenched in red gives a flood of that sanguinous colour which seems to break a few rules and go against the overall flow of work. And what Freud would have said... A splendid, large scale painting of a sow overbestowed with teats and piglets in a woodland glade, the sunlight dappling their backs was a surprise even to the artist when he saw it again after a long interval.

The studio in a separate building in the garden has roof-lights and a good working space as well as a separate room showing a sequence of boating scenes on large canvasses. The artist's paraphernalia of paint-smeared coats and battered palettes along with commercial work for a Norwich Christmas cracker company and Mucha-style posters complete the scene.

One slyly hidden facet of his life can be found amongst the (very good) boyhood drawings and mementoes in a small alcove: Munnings lost the sight of one eye in an accident at the age of twenty. I particularly liked the stylised horses incised into the wet rendered cement of a wall of the courtyard years ago and yet full of life.

Thanks once again to Mo Galvani for organising the outing which finished at the tea-shop in the Craft market in warm weather while Ipswich was experiencing a massive downpour.

--Borin Van Loon
Sept 2002

 

For more information about Sir Alfred Munnings and images of his house, click here.