The Red Prince Mare, dating from 1921, is widely considered one of Munnings’ most impressive and significant compositions. The work is simultaneously monumental and personal. His inventiveness, originality and ability to capture a fleeting moment are all at their foremost in this important commission.
The painting depicts Violet Munnings’ mare, Rosemary, being saddled before a point to point race. Prior to Violet's marriage, Rosemary was one of the horses that she had used for both showing and hunting. Rosemary was the mother of Red Prince II, as well as 1880 Grand National winner, Empress. Violet Munnings described Rosemary as “inclined to be queer” but bred her and kept two of her foals, Winter Rose and Cherrybounce, both of whom were frequently used as both models and riding horses.
In the present work, Munnings depicts perfectly the anticipation and fervor before the race, employing a composition of equine characters set against a typically crisp and cloudy English afternoon sky. The rich red of the riders’ jackets, the shimmering brown of Rosemary’s coat, and the royal blue of the saddle blanket create a dazzling synthesis of light and color.
The Red Prince Mare was first sketched by Munnings in the paddock of the point to point course (see fig. 1). Munnings then expanded and finished this final composition in his studio at Castle House, although the sky was painted directly from nature, as was his custom (see fig. 2). In his memoirs, Munnings describes the moment he rendered the sky noting: “I remember clearly the February morning and weather conditions which were making skies. Leaving what I was doing, I seized the opportunity; painting a sky happening at the moment, not touching it again.” It is possible that the setting of this work was based on scenes near Belvoir Castle where Munnings was commissioned by the Master of Fox and Hounds (MFH) to spend the season painting hunting pictures. A similar tent appears in Munnings’ various pictures of the Belvoir Point to Point races on Barrowby Hill, one sold by Sotheby’s, New York, June 17, 2001 and another from the Paul Mellon collection now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond.
Munnings, in his autobiography, The Second Burst, carefully describes his choice of design: “The centre of the design – the mare, held by a groom, partly silhouetted against the sky; a man on the far side placing the weight-cloth; kneeling on the right, a lad in light-colored jacket and box-cloth leggings packing up wisp and brushes in a rubbing cloth. It is easy to see the picture could not exist without this lad placed where he is.” Munnings continues his description further in his memoirs, identifying, with great affection, the above referenced characters including Bert Smith, the groom, who was his handyman at his home Castle House. Munnings lent Smith his gentleman’s grey corduroy riding suit and Mrs. Munnings’ bowler hat so that he was properly attired for the portrait. The man putting on the weight-cloth is Mr. Garrett. Munnings noted in his memoirs, “Garrett’s youngest boy posed for this and also the figure on the left.” Munnings’ close attention to the design of this composition proved successful, and it received the prized gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1921. The painting also achieved one of the highest prices when it was bought by Mrs. Whitney at the Alpine Gallery exhibition in 1921, for a total of 1000 guineas.
We are grateful to Lorian Paralta - Ramos for her assistance in cataloguing this painting.
Fig. 1, Sir Alfred J. Munnings, Sketches for the Red Prince Mare, 1921, graphite on paper
Fig. 2, Photograph of Sir Alfred J. Munnings standing outside his home Castle House painting the sky of The Red Prince Mare
Oil on canvas
Alfred J. Munnings
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute
Glasgow, The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1921, no. 203
London, Alpine Gallery, Pictures of the Belvoir Hunt and Other Scenes of English Country Life by Alfred J. Munnings, R.A., 1921, no. 11
Paris, Salon , 135eme Exposition Annuelle des Beaux-Arts, 1922, no. 1320 (titled At a Point to Point Meeting)
New York, Howard Young Galleries, Paintings of Horses and Sporting Events, 1930, no. 21
Buffalo, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Catalogue of Paintings by A.J. Munnings, 1931, no. 19
Westbury, Country Art Gallery, 1956
Saratoga Springs, National Museum of Racing, Annual Exhibition, 1972, no. 4
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Alfred J. Munnings: Images of the Turf and Field, 1983, no. 32
Saratoga Springs, National Museum of Racing, A Selection of Equestrian Art from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, 1989, no.27
Saratoga Springs, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, The Mastery of Munnings, Sir Alfred J. Munnings, 1878-1959, Summer 2000
40 by 60 in. 101.6 by 152.4 cm
"Studio Talk," The Studio, London, January 1921, no. 334
"The Master of Charterhouse, Mr. A.J. Munnings’ Pictures at the Alpine Gallery," Country Life, London, April 30, 1921, illustrated p. 516
‘Sporting Pictures by A.J. Munnings, ARA’, The Field, London, May 14, 1921, illustrated p. 611
Alfred Munnings, Pictures of Horses and English Life, London, 1927, illustrated p. 85
Lionel Lindsay, A.J. Munnings R.A.: Pictures of Horses and English Life, London and New York, 1939, no. 57, illustrated p. 113
Sir Alfred Munnings, The Second Burst, London, 1951, p.132-3, illustrated opposite p. 136
Alpine Galleries (1921)
Mrs. Payne Whitney, New York (acquired from the above)
Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney (by descent from the above)