Exhibition of paintings at the National Army Museum.
Although somewhat late in the day, TMT has visited the wonderful exhibition of paintings by Alfred Munnings at the National Army Museum, next to the Royal Hospital in London. It opened at the end of November and is due to close on the 3rd of March; so there is still time to visit this display of Munnings’ First War series which he painted mostly at the behest of the Canadian Army.
The pictures record life at or near the front, with cavalry and the Canadian Forestry Corps being the main topics. Other subjects include farming life that went on in and around the fighting, and which reflect Munnings’ superb pictures of market days and country life in England pre- and post-war. The colours are breath-taking, with a freshness that is quite striking. Munnings used a very free style of painting, with oil colours being laid on top of each other in a way that provides great freshness and liveliness. In part this was due to the fact the he sometimes had to finish a picture in a matter of hours given the proximity to the front or the circumstance in which he worked.
His depictions of horses are very impressive, and he has such a sure touch that he thought nothing of filling a large canvas with a column of mounted troops, all depicted in a surprisingly free-hand manner, and yet all beautifully proportioned, detailed and so alive that the overall impression is that the image is of something that might have happened last week. His colours are wonderful, and the sense of distance and warmth of his landscapes are a superb backdrop to the sometimes glowing focus of interest in the foreground.
Any would-be artists, or historians of that period would gain much from taking a look. A book is available from the Museum shop entitled “Alfred Munnings. Memory, the War Horse and the Canadians in 1918”, by Jonathan Black. It has many of the pictures on display, in addition to many more sketches and illustrations to add context to Munnings’ work at that time. Inevitably, the large colour reproductions, whilst good, do not capture the true quality of the actual pictures, so do not entirely do justice to his abilities.
A visit is thoroughly recommended. The National Army Museum does not charge an entry fee, but entry to the Munnings exhibition is £6, with various concessions for the Old and Bold and serving members of the Forces.
From the National Army Museum’s press release:
The exhibition, developed by the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa, Canada) in partnership with The Munnings Art Museum (Dedham, UK) and generously supported by The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation, will display over 40 paintings created during the final year of the First World War, shown together for the first time since 1919.
Covering a number of themes the exhibition shows Munnings’ emerging mastery of equine subjects, portraiture and pastoral landscapes. Munnings’ wartime artwork displays the skill that led to him securing admittance to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1919 and contributed to his role as one of Britain’s most celebrated equine artists. The exhibition is locally supported by Juddmonte Group and supplemented with works from the National Army Museum’s own collection relating to General Jack Seely, who commanded the Canadian Cavalry Brigade throughout much of the war.
Munnings was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund as an official war artist, to capture the fighting front and the crucial logistical work behind the lines. In early 1918, he was embedded with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, an army comprised largely of citizen soldiers fighting on the Western Front. The Canadian War Memorials Fund was created by Lord Beaverbrook to document and memorialise the Canadian war effort at home and overseas through paintings and sculpture.
Justin Maciejewski, Director of the National Army Museum commented, ‘We are delighted to be the first venue for this tour of paintings from the Canadian War Museum. The 41 canvases by Alfred Munnings are part of Canada’s memorial to those who served during the First World War. They are amongst the best work by the artist and, exhibited together, they tell an evocative story of service and sacrifice by both soldiers and horses.’
From 30 November 2018 to 3 March 2019, the National Army Museum will exhibit the work of Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) in ‘Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918’.
For more information, please see: https://www.nam.ac.uk/press/alfred-munnings-war-artist-1918
Words and inages TMT with NAM press release and images courtesy of the NAM and Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum.