Reporter: Anne Grimshaw
Horse Painter par excellence
It was a perfect summer’s day for the Sudbury Society’s visit to the delightful and elegant Castle House and garden with its mature trees and sweeping lawns at Dedham, the home for forty years of equestrian artist Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959). His widow, Violet, established the house as a museum in 1961 to display pictures still in her possession. It is now run by the Castle House Trust. Being ‘mad on horses’ I had known of Munnings most of my life and was thrilled to see the originals of pictures that I had seen only in books or as prints such My Wife, My Horse and Myself which was on sale in my local Boots when I was about ten years old.
On arrival we were given a brief introduction to Munnings’ life and works then were free to wander around the house which was, of course, filled with his paintings and sketches – not all horses. Some were landscapes, several of which had been displayed recently at Gainsborough’s House. Munnings was perhaps something of an odd ball in many respects but his skill as a painter of horses is, for me, unsurpassed. He is remembered for his outspoken opinions on ‘modern art’ (which were probably held but unspoken by many people) at a Royal Academy banquet in 1949. The house was furnished as it had been in Munnings’ day. There was something interesting and beautiful in every room. Or curious – like the stuffed Pekingese dog (a family pet) in a glass case.
During the First World War Munnings was an official war artist. His painting General J.E.B. Seely on his charger Warrior was the subject of a TV documentary following the recent success of the theatre production and cinema film Warhorse.
After exploring the house, studio and garden and watching a 40-minute film about Munnngs’ life, several of us finished our visit with cream teas in the garden. I have mentioned my visit to a few people who had visited Munnings’ house some time ago. Almost without exception they said to me, “Is the stuffed dog still there?” Hmmm…. Not quite the ‘legacy’ of Munnings I’d have expected!