A Masterpiece By Sir Alfred J. Munnings To Lead The Field at Sotheby’s London

LONDON – Sotheby’s announced that its annual sale of Sporting Art in London on Wednesday, May 7, 2008 will be headlined by a rare and important masterpiece by the most distinguished and reputed sporting artist of the 20th century, Sir Alfred J. Munnings (1878-1959). The sale of the painting, entitled A Boy and his Pony – Portrait of Daffern Seal on Canary, comes hot on the heels of a succession of impressive prices for works by Munnings at Sotheby’s; last year’s sale of Sporting Pictures in London witnessed three works by the artist sell for a combined total of more than £2.3 million with Return from the Nets achieving £1.4 million alone. A Boy and his Pony – Portrait of Daffern Seal on Canary has not appeared on the market or been seen in public for some 30 years and its sale looks set to generate huge excitement in the academic and collecting worlds alike. The rare portrait is estimated at £1.5–2.5 million.

Born of old East Anglian farming stock in Mendham, Suffolk in 1878, Sir Alfred J. Munnings was a self-made man, a controversial figure and one of the great English characters of the 20th century. He had a remarkable ability to capture a fleeting moment; something clearly evident in his A Boy and his Pony – Portrait of Daffern Seal on Canary, which he painted in 1926 and which was shortly afterwards exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.

The canvas captures a young boy by the name of Daffern Seal sitting on his pony called Canary in the orchard of his family’s home in Ullesthorpe, Leicestershire on a quintessential summer day. Munnings, who was well acquainted with Daffern’s parents, recalls the making of the portrait in the second volume of his autobiography, The Second Burst, when he states: “ … the picture was begun and finished where I was staying. A father and mother whose small boy was their only thought in the world wanted a picture of him on his pony called Canary. The good father was a well-to-do manufacturer in Leicester, and his house was on the border of the Atherstone and Quorn. I was at home with these hospitable folk in the beautiful countryside.” He continues: “It was an open air painting. The boy sat on Canary at the end of the orchard as though riding along the clipped fence….. Sky, trees, fence, the boy on the pony – all were painted without alteration.” On completion of the commission, Munnings recalls that Daffern’s father took him into his study and said with great enthusiasm and appreciation: “You’ve given my wife and myself more pleasure than you know. I’m more than satisfied, and can’t thank you enough.”

The composition of the painting is superlative and it captures the simplicity and innocence of childhood within the seemingly uncomplicated rural landscape of post-war England. It has been suggested that the warmth that pervades the scene comes as much from the sun as Munnings own feelings for the subject. The painting is one of a handful of known portraits of young children by the artist. With his royal patronage from 1925 and his full membership of the Royal Academy granted a year later, Munnings received an endless stream of commissions, many of which were from some of England’s most aristocratic families.

Grant Ford, Senior Director and Specialist in Victorian and Sporting Pictures at Sotheby’s, comments: “This outstanding portrait shows Munnings at his very finest. Having featured in many of the publications on the artist, the painting is one of his best known and widely recognised images as well as one of his most important works to come to the market in recent years. We’re thrilled to be handling the sale of this picture and it comes to the market at a time when interest in the great works of Munnings is stronger than ever.”

The painting, which was purchased by the late Mr. and Mrs. Gordon T. Southam in 1977 and remained in their collection for 30 years, was bequeathed to the Vancouver Art Gallery by Mrs. Jean MacMillan Southam following her death in October last year. Given the unrestricted nature of the gift from Mrs. Southam, the Gallery – which focuses on collecting historical Canadian art and international contemporary art – will dedicate proceeds from the sale of the Munnings artwork to establish the Jean MacMillan Southam Art Acquisition Endowment Fund and Major Art Purchase Fund. In recent years, the Vancouver Art Gallery has emerged as one of the leading contemporary art museums in North America. The newly created funds in Jean MacMillan Southam’s name will enable the Gallery to continue to acquire and present the work of outstanding Canadian and internationally recognized contemporary artists.

The Sporting Sale in May will also comprise five further works by Munnings, the most valuable of which is a Portrait of Lady Barbara Lowther on Horseback, which is estimated at £800,000-1,200,000. This portrait is among some of the earliest society portraits that Munnings produced and it demonstrates the artist’s faultless sense and control of colour relationship. The Start carries an estimate of £400,000-600,000 and in this canvas Munnings distills the grandeur and tensions of the great English racing scene into its most essential moment.

Against the broad sweep of the Newmarket Heath and expansive animated sky, Munnings focuses tightly on a large field of horses as they are coaxed or restrained by their jockeys into a formal line prior to the start of the race. Other works by the artist will be Ridge and Furrow, which dates from 1902 and is estimated at £80,000-120,000; Gypsy Ponies, which also has an estimate of £80,000-120,000; and Dawn on the Ringland Hills, estimated at £100,000-150,000.

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