PUBLISHED: 15:27 26 September 2014 | UPDATED: 15:27 26 September 2014
Dedham artist, Sir Alfred Munnings, braved flying bullets to produce masterpieces of war art during World War I. Janice Walker takes a look at the man, his works and the Museum where his art is on display
Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959) started his career as an apprentice to a Norwich printer, designing and drawing advertising posters, and attending the Norwich School of Art in his spare time. When his apprenticeship finished, Munnings’ decision to make a career from his art proved lucrative and his paintings of rural scenes, gypsies and horses sold well. Sir Alfred had works accepted to the Royal Academy every year from 1898 until only a couple of years before his death and he was also its president from 1945 to 1949.
When World War I broke out, Munnings found that the loss of sight in his right eye, which had occurred in an accident in 1898, rendered him unfit to fight. His offer to the army of two horses he owned, in return for being allowed to enlist, was turned down, but his equine knowledge did secure him a civilian position examining horses, prior to them being sent to France for service in the artillery, cavalry or supply units. He was assigned to one of the horse remount depots on the Western Front, before being employed as a war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.
During this time, Munnings painted many scenes and possibly his most famous mounted portrait is of General Jack Seely on Warrior in 1918 (now in the collection of the Canadian War Museum). The portrait was painted close to the frontline and Alfred Munnings experienced the muddy conditions and the associated difficulties, having to stand on duckboards to prevent him sinking into the mire while the general posed on his horse for more than an hour.
On returning to England, Sir Alfred purchased Castle House in Dedham, where he lived and worked until his death in 1959. The house was then opened as a museum by his widow, Lady Munnings, to realise her late husband’s desire to ensure art lovers could still enjoy his paintings after his death. Initially the museum displayed the paintings still in Lady Munnings’ possession and today The Castle House Trust enables visitors from all over the world to view changing displays of Munnings’ work as a result of the trust acquiring further works and exhibiting loaned pictures.
A special exhibition, AJ Munnings: sketches from France, 1918, showing the preparatory drawings for the 45 finished canvases owned by the Canadian government runs until the end of October. So why not take the opportunity to appreciate the talents of this unsung hero of the war and admire not only his works but where Sir Alfred’s untouched studio remains furnished and equipped with his painting paraphernalia?
Castle House and grounds are open to the public until October 31 from Wednesday to Sunday, 2pm to 5pm. Visit www.munningsmuseum.org.uk