New record set for Munnings painting

By Jonathan BarnesA WORLD-RECORD price has been paid for a painting by East Anglian artist Sir Alfred Munnings - almost doubling the previous highest figure.

By Jonathan Barnes

A WORLD-RECORD price has been paid for a painting by East Anglian artist Sir Alfred Munnings - almost doubling the previous highest figure.

The Red Prince Mare, a 40in by 60in oil painting, sold for $7,848,000 (£4,384,357) at an auction in New York yestyerday.

The selling price for the 1921 painting at the Sotheby's auction topped the $4,292,500 paid for Munnings' portrait of Lord and Lady Mildmay of Flete at Christie's in New York in 1999. It is also the most expensive sporting painting.

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The new record bolsters the formidable reputation of East Anglia's finest artists - the highest price paid for a British painting remains £10.7million for East Bergholt-born John Constable's 1824 painting The Lock at Dedham, which was last sold in 1990.

The Red Prince Mare was one of four Munnings paintings in the Sotheby's sale, from a collection that belonged to one of America's richest couples, Mr and Mrs John Hay Whitney.

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They sold for more than $10m in a matter of minutes - in the same auction that a new world record was set for the sale of a painting with $104,168,000 (£58m) paid for Pablo Picasso's Garcon a la Pipe (Boy With a Pipe).

Munnings' most expensive painting captures the fervour before a point-to point horse race. It shows a racehorse, Rosemary, which was owned by the artist's wife, Violet, being saddled.

Lady Munnings is pictured in the middle of the canvas and the painting also features Munnings' odd-job man, Bert Smith, dressed up in the artist's clothes.

Munnings enthusiast and specialist, Jonathan Horwich, a director at Christie's auctioneers, said The Red Prince Mare was the artist's masterpiece.

“The sheer size, scale and quality of it is magnificent. It's a giant scale picture and you know it's worth a lot of money just by looking at it,” he added.

“Munnings absolutely hated modern art and being in the same sale as Picasso would have driven him crazy.

“But that's a significant change because, although he might not be as well-known, he deserves to be up there with the international names of 20th Century painting.

“His popularity grows year on year and his appeal is across the board to dealers and collectors.”

Munnings paintings have regularly sold for millions of pounds over recent years, some to high-profile collectors such as Lord Lloyd Webber, who is a huge fan of the artist.

John Hay Whitney was the grandson of Abraham Lincoln's secretary and was the U.S. ambassador to Britain from 1956 to 1961.

He was editor-in-chief of The New York Herald Tribune from 1961 to 1966 and died in 1982.

His wife, Betsey, sold off the 44-painting collection to raise money for the couple's Greentree Foundation.

The three other Munnings paintings in the New York sale, Leaving the Paddock at Epsom Downs, Before the Start and The Winner, fetched $2,488,000 between them.

Miller's son Munnings was born in Mendham, near Bungay, in October 1878 and was educated at Redenhall Grammar School and Framlingham College, where he was once caned for drawing when he was not supposed to.

Munnings' first job was at a lithographers' in Norwich and, at the end of his apprenticeship in 1904, he set up a studio in a converted carpenter's shop in Mendham.

He lost the sight in his right eye at the age of 20 after suffering a blow from a briar while lifting a dog over a hedge.

Munnings was also rejected from the Army twice because of his sight, but despite this, he was sent to France in 1918 as an official war artist.

He gained a reputation for his paintings of horses, village characters, landscapes and hunting scenes and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1925. Munnings was the academy's president from 1944 - the year he was knighted - to 1949.

In 1919, he bought Castle House in Dedham - which he described as “the house of my dreams” - where he lived for 40 years until his death in 1959. It is now a museum dedicated to his life's work.


1. The Red House Mare. Sold at Sotheby's, New York, May 2004, for $7,848,000 (£4,384,357).

2. Lord and Lady Mildmay of Fiete. Sold at Christie's, New York, December 1999, for $4,292,500.

3. Saddling Mahmoud. Sold at Sotheby's, New York, June 2000, for $3,800,750.

4. An Old Favourite. Sold at Christie's, New York, December 1999, for $2,973,500.

5. Evening at the Ford. Sold at Sotheby's New York, June 2000, for $2,810,750.

6. The Ford. Sold at Christie's, London, June 2002, for £1,821,650.

7. Coming Through the Gap. Sold at Christie's, London, June 2002, for £1,546,560.

8. Early Morning on Manton Downs. Sold at Sotheby's, London, November 2003, for £1,517,600.

9. Beryl Riley-Smith on Snowflake. Sold at Christie's, London, November 2002, for £1,491, 650.

10. His Old Demesne. Sold at Waddington's, December 1999, for $2,127,443.

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