MUNNINGS, Sir Alfred James. Old Brandy and Cherry Bounce. A Ballad of Exmoor. Colchester: ‘printed privately’ by Cullingford & Co. Ltd. for the author, [circa 1943-1948]. 

Octavo (203 x 127 mm), pp. 17, [2 (blank)], [1 (imprint)]. Original printed wrappers. (Slightly faded on spine, a few light marks, extremities slightly rubbed and creased.) A very good, clean copy. ProvenanceSir (Charles Otto) Desmond MacCarthy, 2 March 1948 (1877-1952, presentation inscription from Munnings on half title ‘To Desmond MacCarthy, from Alfred Munnings a corrected, if not faultless, copy. March 2. 1948.’ with a pen-and-ink drawing of a brandy bottle by Munnings, further illustrated with two pen-and-ink drawings of his horse ‘Cherry Bounce’ on pp. 17 and [19]).

First edition, second, corrected issue. The artist Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) wrote poetry throughout his life. This privately-printed volume collects two of his poems, written during World War II, when ‘Munnings retired to his cottage on Exmoor, where […] he painted landscapes, Dartmoor ponies, and hunting scenes, and, feeling more at peace with himself than he had since the early Newlyn days, wrote gentle reflective poetry rather than the long ballads and obscene verses in which he once indulged’ (ODNB). The first of these poems, ‘Old Brandy’, is dated ‘Withypool, December, 1943’, and describes smugglers bringing brandy and lace to England by sea, and provided Munnings’ subject for the drawing below his presentation inscription on the half-title.

The second poem, ‘Cherry Bounce’ (dated ‘Withypool, 1942’) describes Munnings setting out on ‘a mare, / A bay, which I called “Cherry-bounce”’ and journeying to an abandoned farm, its ‘empty buildings bleak and bare’, where he dismounts and explores the farmhouse: ‘The fire dogs in the open hearth, / With ashes lying white and dead; / The plaster broken from the lath / Lie scattered from the ceiling shed’. The rider, grown drowsy in the late autumn heat, sits down and falls asleep, but wakes on hearing a voice cry out, sensing ‘A strange forboding in the air’. Thinking of ‘those who once had dwelt / In that dead house behind me there’, he senses the shades of previous inhabitants surround him as ‘an eerie breeze’ lifts fallen leaves upwards: 

With one loud snort the frightened mare, / Her nostrils blown in full dilate,
Stood head and tail erect in air,  / Then with a bound she cleared the gate!!
She sailed away with all my hopes / Of ever getting home that day;
She disappeared beyond the slopes; / Her saddle and her bridle lay
Upon the ground, all useless now;

Forced to walk home at night, the rider encounters a ghostly figure whose name has been called out in the farmyard and who saves him from stumbling into a bog in the darkness. As they shelter together, she relates the tale of her lover’s desertion and how she eventually drowned herself. In the morning, the narrator ‘plodded on o’er many a track: / Across the moors I made for home’, where he is greeted by the sight of ‘that foolish mare / Stood watching from the stable door!’

Munnings had reared ‘Cherrybounce’ himself, naming her for a horse in R.S. Surtees’ Mr. Sponge’s Sporting Tour (London, 1852),and he characterised her as ‘a big, upstanding bay, sixteen and a half hands, with a white star on her forehead, a strong back and loin, thick, curly mane and tail, and good constitution. She’s what you call a goer, and takes some holding; the best over a gate I’ve ever ridden. I’ve used her hard and often and never known her lame. […] As one of many models, Cherrybounce has helped to run the show’ (An Artist’s Life (London, 1950), p. 14). Cherrybounce was a subject of Munnings’ paintings as well as his poetry, and was depicted in a number of oils in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including ‘Why Weren’t you Out Yesterday?’, ‘Winter Exercise’, and‘Cherrybounce and a Stable Boy’. This volume is illustrated with two pen-and-ink drawings of the horse: the first fills the half-page below the last stanza of the poem and shows Cherrybounce ‘Stood watching from the stable door!’ and the second (which covers the penultimate blank page), depicts Cherrybounce galloping across the countryside, while her saddle and bridle lie on the ground behind the farmyard’s gate.

This copy was inscribed by Munnings to his friend Sir Desmond MacCarthy in 1948, while Munnings was still the President of the Royal Academy. He had been elected president on 14 March 1944 and became ‘the Royal Academy’s most controversial president’ (ODNB), despite making Churchill the first Royal Academician Extraordinary. In 1949 Munnings revived the Academy’s men-only annual banquet (which had not been held since 1939), and his ‘uninhibited sixteen minute after-dinner speech at it made academy history: he berated the academy, the Arts Council, the Tate Gallery, and Anthony Blunt (surveyor of the king’s pictures), and ranted against modern art, including “those foolish daubers” Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso, whose influence, he said, had defiled British tradition’ (op. cit.). Although the public largely shared his sentiments, unsurprisingly the art world did not, and Munnings resigned the presidency at the end of 1949. During his presidency Munnings’ work had been shown in the successful solo exhibition ‘The English Scene’ at the Leicester Galleries, London in 1947, and MacCarthy had written to him on 26 November 1947 stating that the exhibition’s success demonstrated that ‘at last lovers of pictures are asserting their faith that painting is a representative art, a principle which no one doubted till lately, and, secondly, that they are beginning to kick against the capture by the theoretical cliques of all the main channels of art criticism, who scare and hypnotise people with incomprehensible jargon […] and spread esoteric snobbishness instead of appreciation’ (R. Pound, The Englishman. A Biography of Sir Alfred Munnings (London, 1962), p. 167). 

Inscribed copies of Old Brandy and Cherry Bounce are rare in commerce – particularly when illustrated with drawings of Cherrybounce – and we have only been able to locate three in recent years, all of them inscribed after this copy and only one illustrated with a drawing of Cherrybounce: a copy inscribed to Adrian Bury (1 September 1954), illustrated with drawings of a brandy bottle and a landau carriage (with Maggs Bros, London); a copy inscribed to H. Bradfer Lawrence (23 April 1955), illustrated with a drawing of a brandy bottle and glasses (Sotheby’s London, 13 July 2006, lot 43); and a copy inscribed to an unidentified recipient (apparently in 1959, the year of Munnings’ death), illustrated with one drawing of Cherrybounce (Christie’s King Street, 19 May 2006, lot 87). As Munnings’ inscription in this copy indicates, the first issue of the work included a number of errors (for example, ‘grave’ for ‘graves’ in the third stanza), which were corrected in this second issue.


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