Munnings' rural idyll may fetch up to £5m

A collection of paintings and sketches by Sir Alfred Munnings, whose depiction of the rural idyll and desire to "kick Picasso up the backside" made him the darling of traditionalists, is expected to fetch up to £5m at auction.

The 21 works by the son of a Suffolk mill owner, who specialised in painting horses and sporting scenes such as hunting, represent the largest collection of his work still in private hands.

The collection was acquired between 1900 and 1915 by Sir Alfred's friend Charles Bunting, who owned a Norwich department store.

The auctioneer, Christie's in London, said it expected high demand for the collection executed in oils, watercolour and pencil sketches, which harks back to a "golden era" of English rural life. A Christie's spokeswoman said: "This is the first time that this collection has been seen in public for nearly 90 years."

Sir Alfred, who died in 1959 aged 81, began his career at 14 when he was apprenticed to a Norwich print works, producing commercial designs, including chocolate box lids.

He rapidly gained popularity and his scenes of gypsies, horse races and military regiments attracted a steady procession of wealthy buyers. Among the subjects for his equestrian portraits were King George V on his pony, Jock, at Sandringham in 1937.

Despite being seen by much of the present establishment as representing a rigidly conservative school of art, his work still fetches high prices. One of his pictures was sold for £2.5m.

Sir Alfred achieved notoriety in 1949 when he condemned modern art during his valedictory speech as president of the Royal Academy.

He denounced Picasso, Matisse and Henry Moore, saying that if he met the Spanish painter in the street he would kick him up the rear.

The Bunting collection will be auctioned on 12 June.

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