A Tragic Life: Florence Carter-Wood

sir_alfred_james_munnings_pra_rws_portrait_of_florence_munnings_at_sun) jpg ([...]
Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959), Portrait of Florence Munnings, at sunset (1912), signed and dated ‘A.J. MUNNINGS 1912’ (lower right), oil on canvas, 21 x 24 in. (53.4 x 61 cm.), Source: Christie’s.

A Hint of Mystery: Florence Carter-Wood

Portrait of Florence Munnings, at sunset (1912) is a key work in Munnings’ Cornish period and a rare painting by Munnings of his first wife, Florence Carter-Wood.  Florence was an artist herself, exhibiting both at the Royal Academy and at Walker Art Gallery.

According to Christie’s,

She is probably seated on the garden wall of Cliff House, or in the nearby road through Lamorna Valley known as Rocky Lane. She is silhouetted against the diffused light of the setting sun, which casts a warm summer light and enhances the shadows.

Her brother, Joey, was a student at Stanhope Forbes’s painting school, and it was through him that she met Harold and Laura Knight, for whom she frequently modeled at this period, and the irrepressible Munnings, who was omnipresent at any social gathering in and around Newlyn.

Pause and Ponder

The story of Florence, however, is not a happy one. Are there hints of disharmony in Munnings’ painting of his wife produced in the first year of marriage? The first detail I notice is that Munnings painted his newlywed wife faceless, like a discarded hand-sewn doll from yesteryear.

This painting disturbs me, and I want to know more about Florence.

Helen Hoyle writes in her blog, Women Artists in Cornwall,

They were considered an ill-matched couple by Lamorna Birch, and by the Knights. Beneath his brash charm Munnings could be insensitive and cruel. Spending a great deal of time away in London or visiting his family roots in Suffolk, he led the life of a carefree bachelor, leaving Florence behind in Lamorna.

9Screenshot_2018-11-11 2018_CKS_16224_0045_000(sir_alfred_james_munnings_pra_rws_portrait_of_florence_munnings_at_sun) jpg ([...]
Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959), Portrait of Florence Munnings, at sunset (1912), signed and dated ‘A.J. MUNNINGS 1912’ (lower right), oil on canvas, 21 x 24 in. (53.4 x 61 cm.), Source: Christie’s., (detail).

 In a Nutshell: Tragic and True

Florence and Munnings married in 1912, but the marriage was unhappy (and according to Munnings, unconsummated). When not in pursuit of the Zennor hunt, Munnings was in demand elsewhere, travelling up and down to London and Suffolk after their marriage. Florence, left in Cornwall, was neglected.

Her friendship with a young captain in the Monmouthshire Regiment, Gilbert Evans, drew closer in these years – to the point in April 1914 when he realized the potential seriousness of their growing affection and decided that his only recourse was to leave England by joining a Royal Engineers Survey of Nigeria.

Amid suspicions that she was pregnant by Gilbert, she took her own life on 24 July 1914. Munnings thereafter left Cornwall, and never mentioned her again.

Quote from Christie’s,

Click for Enlarged Detail:

Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959), Portrait of Florence Munnings, at sunset (1912), signed and dated ‘A.J. MUNNINGS 1912’ (lower right), oil on canvas, 21 x 24 in. (53.4 x 61 cm.), Source: Christie’s.

What Happened to This Painting ?

According to Christie’s, Munnings gave Portrait of Florence Munnings at Sunset to Jill and Geoffrey Garnier, fellow Newlyn artists. Their heirs sold the picture at auction in 2006.

Details:

Sources

Many quotes in this post are attributed to Christie’s, who credit “Lorian Peralta-Ramos for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.”

“Summer in February. Art in Lamorna 1910-1914”. from the blog Women Artists in Cornwall. 21 March 2013, by Helen Hoyle, accessed October 25, 2021.

Future Research

In future posts,

  • I will research Alfred Munnings’ The Morning Ride in which Florence was once again his model. Interestingly, The Morning Ride passed by descent in the family of Major Gilbert Evans.
  • I will also highlight Harold Knight’s portrait of Florence from the same period (sold at Christie’s on July 13, 2016).
  • Finally, I am most interested in finding information about any paintings produced by Florence Carter-Wood in her brief and tragic lifetime.

Thanks for Reading! 🙂

~Sunnyside

4 Comments Add yours

  1. A sad story.
    There is warmth in the glow of the setting sun, but the body of the woman is stiff and appears distant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Though I adore the colors and all else about the painting, the image of her is unnerving to me – a faceless form completely disconnected from her surroundings. Reminds me of rag doll sewn from muslin, but no one bothered to stitch on the face….Thanks for visiting, Rosaliene 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dora says:

    Tragic indeed! And what does it say about the artist that he would even want to paint his wife faceless, taking away her distinctions, her uniqueness, her person-hood and substituting a non-entity as it were, and one without a mouth, only hands and feet.
    pax,
    dora

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Dora. I am having a hard time looking at Munnings’ horse paintings (which I have loved) since learning about Florence. Of course, I have never been objective about art….it is too personal. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s