The Berger Collection

Sir Alfred J. Munnings, KCVO, PRA, RWS, RP (1878-1959)
The Start of a Horse Race, ca. 1952
Oil on panel
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm)

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For Munnings, the start was the most exciting part of a horse race, and it was one of his most frequent subjects. From his studio in an old stable on Newmarket Heath, he painted several paintings of the starts at Newmarket. In The Finish, the third volume of his autobiography, he wrote about the difficulties of capturing the brief moment before the horses and riders set off: "But to my own profession and purpose - seeing visible beauty; the grouping, the movement - colour, all dependent on the lighting, the sky. Orange satin, cerise-and-white, blue-and-yellow, emerald green - a large field waiting, waiting, regrouping. At each start, determining to retain the picture in my mind, too often an incident, something a horse is doing distracts, and once again my purpose is thwarted."

Munnings clearly felt that this painting, so full of energy and movement as the horses are about to explode into action, was one of his best. He wrote to the original buyer of the work, saying, "The colour I never could repeat in that painting. It has beaten my efforts to put it into the other buyer's canvas that you saw - the cerise-orange and blue."


Purchased from the artist by a private collector, Pennsylvania; by descent; Christie's, New York, December 6, 1996, lot 174


Exhibited: The National Museum of Racing, Saratoga Springs, Special Exhibit 1980, July 15-August 31, 1980; Wildenstein, New York, Alfred J. Munnings, April 28-June 30, 1983, no. 103, repr.; The Artis Group, New York, Fine Sporting Pictures, December 1, 1988-January 20, 1989, no. 27, repr.

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