English painter A.J. Munnings (1878–1959) was a painter of horses and landscapes. He lost sight in his right eye as the result of an accident when he was twenty. A visit to the Lavenham horse fair sparked a lasting enthusiasm for painting horses and gypsies. Ineligible for active service because of his sight, he spent the first three years of the First World War mainly in Cornwall. Early in 1918 he went to France as an official artist for the Canadian government, attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. In 1919 he took a studio in London and entered London’s artistic social life, centred around the Chelsea Arts Club and the Café Royal. He also lived at Castle House, Dedham, which is now the Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum. While president of the Royal Academy between 1944 and 1949 Munnings caused embarrassment and controversy by attacking modern art.
Lambert would have drawn this portrait shortly after the thirty-nine-year-old Munnings returned from France and forty-five-year-old Lambert from Palestine. He vividly captured his subject, showing him looking into the distance, with a glazed right eye. His raised eyebrows and gently smiling mouth suggest that he was entertained by Lambert’s company. The rapid pencil lines Lambert used to convey his hair give Munnings a somewhat dishevelled look.
This drawing drew favourable attention from Claude Phillips of the Daily Telegraph , London, who described it on 15 October 1918 as ‘a fearlessly characterised portrait’.