On Wednesday 19 October, we have our auction of Modern and Contemporary Art auction. The sale features a range of works including paintings, watercolours and sculptures dating from 20th century through to the modern day. A particularly interesting piece is Lot 136, a double sided sketch by Sir Alfred Munnings (British 1878-1959). Head of Sale, Francesca Whitham, tells you more about this work.
The present lot is a double-sided study by Sir Alfred Munnings for one of his most important commissions. It began one day whilst sat next to Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough in The Other Club, a political dining society that was founded in 1911. Churchill expressed his admiration for traditional composition in painting and how he much desired to commission a hunting picture of himself together with his son Lord Ivor Churchill on horseback and more specifically grey horses as suggested by Lord Ivor. It was decided and so both Charles Spencer-Churchill and Lord Ivor Churchill made way to Glebe Place in London to sit for Munnings in his studio.
'A signpost to Melton was the thing, we must have a signpost in it! Changing horses, four greys, with the second horseman in full rig; what a subject! Mind you put me on the best horse' the Duke exclaimed. The commission is described at length in the second volume of Munnings’ memoirs. The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1924 in a review recorded in the Connoisseur it was commented More plaudits for the equestrian portrait of the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill, but also for the muscular energy and movement of 'The Grey Horse'. The finished piece has remained in the Blenheim Palace collection ever since.
This rare panel depicts three studies of Lord Ivor Churchill in his sumptuous hunting pinks and top hat. Munnings’ swift, loose marks plan out the composition, experimenting with different positions of Churchill’s head and hands upon the reigns. Sir Alfred Munnings has used very light, fast white strokes under the sitter to represent the horse. On the reverse of the panel the artist makes plans for the final composition which features Lord Ivor Churchill on a grey horse in the far-right corner, Charles Spencer-Churchill in the centre and two further greys with their handler to the left.
The panel’s chamfered edge suggests that Munnings was most likely using one of his slotted study boxes to work on the panel either in situ at Blenheim or back in his studio where both Lord Churchill and Charles Spencer-Churchill sat for Munnings.
A number of other studies for this commission are known to have been carried out by Sir Alfred Munnings, four of which came up for auction in 2006 at Christie’s New York including the work illustrated here which went on to make $204,000. However, it is believed that this double-sided sketch, which has not been on the market before now, was purchased direct from Munnings by Sir Jack Jarvis, who was knighted for services to racing and was one of the country’s leading trainers. The work was then passed through descent to the present owner.
Wednesday 19 October | 10.30am BST
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
Browse the auction
Sign up to email alerts
Sign up for auction alerts and our monthly newsletter to receive expert analysis and insights from our specialists and keep up-to-date on forthcoming auctions, valuation days and previews.