Sir Alfred James Munnings P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959)

The Pad Groom
oil on canvas
signed `A.J. Munnings` (lower left)
21 3/4 x 24 1/4 in. (55.2 x 61.6 cm.)


with Arthur Tooth & Sons, London. Purchased by the present owner's grandfather in 1954.

New York, Howard Young Galleries, Paintings of Horses and Sporting Events by A.J. Munnings, R.A., December 1930, no. 3. Buffalo, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by A.J. Munnings, R.A., February - March 1931, no. 3. Montreal, Eaton's Fine Art Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by A.J. Munnings, 1935, no. 42.

Sir Alfred Munnings emerged at the dawn of the 20th Century as the greatest British equestrian painter since George Stubbs. He grew up in the countryside of the Waverney Valley and left school at the age of 14 for a six-year apprenticeship as a lithographic printmaker in Norwich, where he studied paintings in evening classes at the Norwich School of Art. He enjoyed early success at the Royal Academy in 1899, exhibiting two paintings in spite of losing the sight in his right eye the previous year. In 1911 Munnings joined the artists colony at Newlyn, Cornwall, where he further developed his enthusiasm for painting directly from nature. During the First World War Munnings was turned down for active service due to his eyesight and was instead assigned as a war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in France. After the war ended he focussed primarily on equestrian portraits and racing scenes.

The sitter in The Pad Groom is Mr Dale, a groom to Thomas Robin Bolitho of Trengwainton, Cornwall, Master of the Western Foxhounds. Munnings painted Bolitho's portrait as well another portrait of Dale entitled Black and White, these were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1921, nos. 82 and 443 (both illustrated, A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, London, 1955, opposite p. 152). Dale is painted wearing the same outfit in The Pad Groom as in Black and White and described by Munnings 'in his cockaded hat, black coat, leather belt, white breeches and boots' (ibid. p.148). Dale is riding one of the two grey's seen in Black and White, although it is not clear which one. A ruin is visible in the distance. It is most probably a tin mine engine house known locally as Ding Dong, above Madron and it appears also in Munnings picture of Bolitho.

In his account of the Bolitho portrait, Munnings writes of Dale:

'I must not forget here the little, dapper second horseman, Dale. In those years before the war, I had only seen this diminutive man on a horse in his full glory, white cords, flesh-coloured tops, black coat with a belt round his waist, top hat with a cockade - a real Hunt-servant or, to be correct, pad groom…
As I worked, every now and then the faithful Dale took a peep in at the library door to see all was well. Shorn of his hat and all his glory, he looked as though he never shed the clothes he was wearing, night or day… A perfect fit, such as only an old-fashioned groom would wear, even to the box-cloth leggings and shining boots. Often in a hunt Colonel Willy Bolitho, hunting hounds, would call to Dale, "Get up to the earth and stop him", and Dale, galloping hell-for-leather to the earth on the summit of the hill, dismounted, and facing the approaching fox, danced and yelled, "Yi-yi-yi-yi". He would have frightened a wolf…' (ibid. p.147).

The term pad groom is no longer in common use, but refers to a mounted groom who follows his master when on horseback and who brings out the master's second horse during hunting.

In The Pad Groom Munnings has created a sense of noble monumentality by positioning the subject high on the horizon. The horse and rider are pushed forward in the composition set against the loosely painted sky. The relief is sharpened by a bright sun that catches the horses tail, flank and white sock. Munnings eloquently describes the landscape with confident brushwork and a zigzag of alternate highlights and earthy shades lead the viewers eye through the composition back to Dale. The horse's head is sensitively articulated and Munnings mastery of suggestive movement is beautifully captured in the animal's muscular delineation. The rocky landscape setting is the same as in the Bolitho portrait : 'Trengwainton Carn, a grey granite, precipitous outcrop of rock on the moor' (ibid. p. 147).

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