DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 20 x 24 ins
SIGNATURE: Signed and dated lower left
MEDIUM: oil on canvas
Just before his 21st birthday in 1899, Munnings lost vision in his right eye while visiting his Aunt Polly and her second husband, Mr. Hill, at Mulbarton. Munnings later rented part of Church Farm from these relatives and established his studio there for several years. His aunt and uncle, he recalls in his memoir An Artist’s Life, bred hackneys and farmed in a considerable way. Hackneys are a general-purpose lightweight trotting horse that was popular in Norfolk at the time (though today they are considered a rare breed). The horse, Hamlet, was listed in the Stud Book and Munnings wrote of him in his autobiography as so:
“Mr. Hill, a breeder of hackneys, drove a stepper, Hamlet — a liver chestnut, in the Stud Book. I have driven into Norwich with my Aunt Polly behind that mover, looking into the plate-glass windows as we went down St. Stephen’s to put up at the Boar’s head. These horses scarcely touched the road in their action. Fourteen miles an hour was an average for many.” (p 192)
The Hackney breed was developed in Great Britain as early as the 14th century, primarily in Norfolk. They were a favourite of King Henry VIII, who valued them for their attractiveness and excellent trot. He made his favouritism official in 1542 when he decreed that some of his wealthier subjects keep a certain number of Hackney stallions for breeding purposes. Hackneys possess excellent stamina and are capable of trotting at high speeds for extended periods of time. These attributes made them excellent carthorses. They were particularly popular in Norfolk, where Munnings spent his childhood. They would have been a familiar subject to the artist in the formative years of his career as a painter of horses.