Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Study drawings for a portrait of King George V (1865-1936) 1937

Sir Alfred Munnings PRA (1878-1959)

Study drawings for a portrait of King George V (1865-1936), Sir Alfred Munnings PRA
Pencil on Paper
20th Century
8 1/2 x 10 inches 21 x 25 cm (sight)
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The present drawing relates directly to Munnings's 1937 painting of the King riding Jock, his white Highland garron, in the park at Sandringham (Ipswich Borough Council Museums and Galleries). This painting is described as a posthumous image of the King -and was certainly completed after his death- but it remains unclear whether the treatments of the king's likeness in the present drawing are from photographic and other images or from life. Certainly the figure of the monarch in the final painting was posed by the late King's groom French wearing his master's shooting suit.

Dating, and the state of the King's health prior to his death, may suggest that these likenesses are based on earlier life observation. Certainly Munnings's conception of the King's character seems more acute than would be the mere posthumous recycling of photographs.

The nineteen twenties and thirties represent the period of Munnings's most prolific output as an equestrian and society portraitist, and in many ways his images of elegant riders and meticulously-depicted horses typify our image of leisured Society between the wars. He was no stranger to Royal commissions, and had already painted the Prince of Wales (1921) and the Princess Royal (1931). It can easily be maintained that Munnings was the most skilful painter of the horse in the last century -and, perhaps, to date. It would be a great mistake, though, to see him merely as an accomplished technician, as his critics so swiftly did after his fall from grace. (In a broadcast speech as President of the Royal Academy in 1949 he made some derogatory remarks about Picasso, Miro and others of the modern school, which promised him little mercy from contemporary critics.)

More recently, however, the work of Munnings has come to be recognised not only as a triumph of line, but as a magnificent example of the painterly tradition in British Art. The roots of Munnings's subject lie in his early experience of horse fairs and gypsies in his native East Anglia, but his technique owes much to the practice of the Newlyn colony in Cornwall, where he resided in 1911, and to the native school of Edwardian ''impressionism.'' In this context Munnings emerges as a magnificent handler of paint and a sure practitioner of effects of light and atmosphere.
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