A visit to the Lavenham Horse Fair sparked off Munnings's lifelong fascination with painting horses and stimulated his first major composition, A Suffolk Horse Fair (1901; Dedham, Essex, Munnings A. Mus.). Country fairs became a frequent subject. For short periods in 1902 and 1903 Munnings studied at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he received little tuition but drew inspiration from the paintings he saw there. Still based in the Suffolk countryside he continued to paint landscapes and scenes from local life, occasionally in watercolour but mainly in oils. In 1911 he joined the artists' colony at Newlyn, Cornwall, where he shared the common enthusiasm for painting directly from nature. His subject-matter there continued to centre on horses and also on gypsy life.
Munnings was turned down for active service in World War I but was sent to France in 1918 to record the actions of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Many of Munnings's commissioned works lack the vitality of subjects of his own choosing, although the challenge of painting horses was a constant motivation. After his death his wife turned their home in Dedham into a museum of his work.
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