Watercolor, 11 1⁄4” x 14 1⁄2”
Signed, dated 1906
Frost & Reed
The Collection of George and Eli Blackwell
Throughout his illustrious career Sir Alfred Munnings was fascinated by the itinerant lifestyle of the gypsies and travelers he met while exploring the English countryside. From the turn of the century on, when he was still a young man, Munnings was drawn to their brightly colored wagons, vibrant and flashy clothing, and transient lifestyle.
As the son of an East Anglian miller, Munnings grew up with horses used for hauling grain wagons and carriages. From a young age, he was exposed to the excitement of local country fairs and the horse traders (oftentimes gypsies) who attended them. A shared love of horses first led the young artist to the gypsy camps outside Mendham, the village in which Munnings grew up. The artist is first known to have started painting their bright wagons, caravans, and colorful clothing as early as 1902 — four years before he completed this watercolor.
Gypsies are a subject the artist visited time and time again. Between painting commissions of society members on horseback, Munnings would often visit gypsy encampments, such as the one shown here. He was attracted to the open lifestyle of the people there, their hordes of goats and chickens, and the bright colors that surrounded him. He also shared their love of animals, even buying one of his favorite dogs from them. Perhaps he viewed these visits as an escape from the uptight lives of his portrait subjects (which helped him make a living). In his memoir, An Artist’s Life, Munnings wrote, “Environment is everything. All comes under its spell. Mine was more than I could wish for at home, with country folk in the right clothes, horses, cattle, a river, millpond, and ducks. For years these surroundings kept me busy, and yet so discontented did I become that it was only when I returned from some journey or stay in another place that I saw it with a fresh eye, beginning fresh work. So it will always be.”