Before the Beatles, I had the typical American notion that the British were hidebound traditionalists. Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959) might well have been a case in point. As president of the Royal Academy of Art, he famously, and perhaps drunkenly, took to the airwaves to denounce Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso for corrupting art. He went on to claim this expurgated exchange with Sir Winston Churchill: "Alfred, if you met Picasso coming down the street would you join with me in kicking his... something something?" to which Munnings said he replied "Yes Sir, I would".
Munnings painted horses, dogs and Gypsies, and his works bring serious money at auctions. Some of his scenes border on kitsch: Mare and Foal in a Field of Buttercups. But others remind us that no subject, however many times it's been painted, can't be seen anew.
This painting depicts the start of a race on turf at Newmarket. As someone newly retired, I am drawn to it because of the hazy, empty space that awaits the horses and riders. The future is neither foreboding nor especially promising, but it is inviting. And the grace with which the horses and riders prepare themselves is inspiring.
The Start, Newmarket. Click on the picture for a closer look.