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Paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings to go on display at Newmarket's National Horseracing Museum



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Newmarket’s National Horseracing Museum will next month host a major exhibition of work by one of the world’s most celebrated, and sought after, artists Sir Alfred Munnings.

The exhibition, A Life of His Own, comprises some 40 paintings, watercolours and drawings, some of which have never been exhibited before, spanning 60 years of the artist’s career and loaned from public and private collections including the Jockey Club, Atkinson Art Gallery, The Harewood House Trust and The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.

Born in 1878 in Mendham, Suffolk, the son of a miller, Munnings grew up on a farm and attended the Norwich School of Art while apprenticing with a printer designing advertisements.

Exercising the Horses
Exercising the Horses
A Shoot in a swede field
A Shoot in a swede field

He eventually became best known for rural and equestrian scenes and made his living through commissioned portraits of prized racehorses.

In 1944 he was elected president of the Royal Academy, the same year he was knighted.

Munnings became something of a local legend in Newmarket. He would drive to the town from his home just over an hour away and stay for a few days at a time, always in the same guest house.

Under Starters' Orders
Under Starters' Orders
A barge of the Stour at Dedham
A barge of the Stour at Dedham

At a previous exhibition put on by the museum, some of his Munnings letters, donated by a friend of Mrs Kate Howard, who ran the guest house, were on display including one which outlined the artist’s preference for dinner.

And he was granted the unusual privilege of being given a studio in a small building formerly used as a rubbing down house on the Newmarket training grounds.

He would settle in on the town’s famous Warren Hill, gallops as the strings of racehorses made their way out to train and begin sketching.

Course officials at the Rowley Mile also allowed him to walk alongside the horses to the start of the race, race card in hand, so he could capture the magic of the moment.

The Belvoir Kennels
The Belvoir Kennels
Path to the Orchard
Path to the Orchard

And though drawn to Newmarket as an artist, Munnings also had a personal affinity for the town which was demonstrated in the lines of a poem he wrote: I’ll fly away at midnight, whilst a star will lead me on along the broad highway towards Newmarket for another day.

Chris Garibaldi, a former director of the National Horseracing Museum, said: “When he had the chance to paint for himself, Munnings focused on detailed scenes capturing different parts of the race day.

"He almost never painted the race itself but preferred to show the crowd gathering around the paddock, or the parade ring afterwards.

Humorist and Steve Donoghue
Humorist and Steve Donoghue
Lord Astor's Buchan
Lord Astor's Buchan

"The start of the race was his favourite subject despite, or because of, the challenge in trying to accurately capture the moments of high tension as equine muscles tensed before they sprung forward into their first strides.

“As a horseman himself, he was challenged by the need to depict the horse accurately and was known to have studied carefully the work of predecessor George Stubbs, whose quest to represent a horse’s conformation led him to produce an equine anatomy book in 1766 showing the bones and ligaments previously invisible beneath the skin."

The Newmarket exhibition opens on May 24 and runs until June 12.

Presented by the British Sporting Art Trust, which was set up in 1977 to promote all aspects of British sporting art, it comprises four main themes including Pursuit of Patronage, in which Royal portraits will be represented by Princess Mary on Portumna, which the artist considered one of his finest female portraits.