The son of a miller, Munnings was born in Mendham on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. He was educated at Redenhall Grammar School and Framlingham College. At age 14, he was apprenticed for six years to the firm of Page Brothers, lithographers, in Norwich where he was noticed by John Shaw Tomkins, a director of Caley's Chocolates, who became his earliest patron. In 1902 he went to Paris to study at Julian's Academy for a few weeks, a practice he repeated several times. He also attended Frank Calderon's School of Animal Painting in Finchingfield, Essex. A passion for horses and horse painting led him to acquire the first of a succession of horses, both to ride and paint. He also visited race meetings and gypsy horse fairs.
In 1910 Munnings moved to Cornwall, which he had already briefly visited, arriving in Newlyn with a group of girl models and soon becoming the life and soul of the artist community in Lamorna. A converted mill served as both studio and stabling for his horses. He became infatuated with a young art student, Florence CARTER-WOOD, who modeled on horseback for him; they were married in 1912, but this disastrous marriage ended with her suicide in 1914.
Records do not show that he ever exhibited in galleries in Cornwall, and since his death his work has been included in only one Cornish exhibition, as promoted by the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol (1992) Artists from Cornwall. However, since there is no list of exhibits in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, it is not known what work(s) of his were chosen.
A five day stay at Mrs. Griggs' at Zennor in 1913 resulted in many fine paintings of his horses and groom, Ned Osborne. In 1917 he joined the army and a year later was sent to France as a war artist for the Canadian Cavalry, resulting in more paintings and memorials. Never afraid to show his dislike for modern art, at the opening of the Stanhope FORBES Memorial Exhibition in Newlyn (1949), he urged those attending 'to march' on the Tate as Forbes' The Health of the Bride was languishing in the basement while "absurd paintings by Matisse were hung preciously on the walls with half a mile between each one".
Painter of landscapes and horses, sculptor.
works and access
Works include: The Lamorna Inn; Going to the Meet of the Western Foxhounds; Shrimp on a Welsh White Pony (1911); Daniel Tomkins and his Dog; My wife, My Horse and Myself; Gypsy Life; General J E B. Seely (later Lord Mottistone) on his charger Warrior; Departure of the Hop Pickers; The Caravan;
Locally: Falmouth Art Gallery (The Caravan);
Access to Work: Many examples of his posters for Caley's Chocolates are to be seen in the Studio at Castle House (The Castle House Trust, Castle House, Dedham, Colchester, Essex); Castle House Aberdeen Art Gallery; National Gàllery, Ottawa; National Art Gallery, Melbourne; Adelaide; Perth; Sydney; Aukland; Dunedin; Wellington; B; Blackburn; Bristol; Dundee; Falmouth; Ipswich; L; Lincoln; M; Newport; Norwich Castle; Preston; Sheffield; Southport; Stoke; Tate; Wolverhampton; Cape Town; Cork; Denver; Canadian War Museum, Ottawa; Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven
RA (295); The Castle House Trust (230); AW (300); RI (60); Leicester Galleries One-man show 1913, 'Horses, Hunting and Country Life' 1945, including paintings of Exmoor; Burlington House (45) Canadian War Memorials Exhibition January 1919; Norwich Castle Museum Retrospective (visited by 86,000 people in six weeks) 1928
1992: Artists from Cornwall, RWE, Bristol
2012: 'Effortless Brushstrokes', Falmouth Art Gallery 11 Feb - 14 Apr
NSA; ARA (1919); RA (1926); SRA (1954); President (1944-49); RWS 1930 (full Member); STISA 1944-1950 (1948-50 President); NSA
Chantrey Bequest list: Tate On-line
P Fuller (1988) in B Ford, ed The Cambridge Guide to the Arts in Britain, Vol 9, Chp 3: 'The Visual Arts'
Hardie (1990) In Time & Place, Lamorna;
Hardie (1995) 100 Years/Diary (Photo);
Hardie (2009) Artists in Newlyn & West Cornwall (Col pl)
Hoyle, H (March 2013 Women Artists in Cornwall www.cornishmuse.blogspot.com) 'Summer in February - Art in Lamorna 1910-1914'
Johnson & Greutzner
Newton et al Painting at the Edge
Public Catalogue Foundation (2007) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership
RWE (1992) Artists from Cornwall Exh cat
Tovey (2003) Creating a Splash
Tovey (2022) Lamorna - An Artistic, Social and Literary History - Volume I - Pre-1920, Wilson Books
Whybrow (1994) St Ives
Wormleighton (1995) A Painter Laureate;