A recollection of Munnings’ introduction to Oliver Brown of the Leicester Galleries in 1912 – an extract from the latter’s memoirs, published posthumously in 1968
“About this time (1912 – Ed) our friends Harold and Laura Knight, whose work we showed for the first time in 1907, brought in a young man from Suffolk named Alfred Munnings, and asked us to look at his pictures. He showed us a number of canvases – of gypsies with ponies, farm horses working, or in pasture, and landscapes of East Anglia, and we were sufficiently struck with them to arrange an exhibition, which was held in March 1914.
He was a simple character in those days with a passion for horses, and we were associated with him until the time he became President of the Royal Academy. His last exhibition with us in 1947 made the greatest total sales which we have ever achieved in a one-man show by a living artist. I have thought that Munnings’ work in those early years was sometimes better than his later work in the ‘forties”
( Oliver Brown was a partner in the gallery, located in Leicester Square, from 1914 until his death in 1966, aged 81.The gallery was one of the world’s most prestigious exhibition venues, and was the first to exhibit the works of Picasso and Matisse. Today the labels of the gallery are sought after per se by art connoisseurs, given the cachet they confer on works exhibited there. From Leicester Square the gallery moved to Great Audly Street, and then to Cork Street, where it closed in 1977 )
Brown’s memoirs contain fascinating glimpses of the rich and the famous who dealt with the Gallery on a daily basis. Here is one letter he received in May 1934:
I enclose 20 guineas for Laura Knight’s Front Row, No14. As it is a theatrical picture I think I should have had it at trade price; but no matter: it is a poor heart that never rejoices.
Keep the picture for the delectation of the public as long as it may be necessary and then send it here to Whitehall Court.
G Bernard Shaw.
Humour (and pathos) is also in evidence at the Gallery, for example at the height of WW I, a disgruntled Army Officer, who had used his leave to visit the gallery, sent the following irate missive:
Hotel Cecil, Strand
4th May 1917
I paid 1/- to-day at the Leicester Galleries to see what has been described as a “Venus”.
I shall be glad to have the 1/- returned as what I saw can only have been intended as a joke.
I consider it distinctly unfair to obtain money from an unsuspecting public for the privilege of viewing a repulsive monstrosity, which bears not the slightest resemblance to the subject it is advertised to represent.
It is not known whether the Lieut Commander received the re-fund, although it was made by return. Our own research indicates that a Lieut Commander of the same name was killed in action on 10th May 1917.