I went to Tate Britain and what do I bring back? A photo of my least favourite painting in the whole collection, that’s what! This might not seem to be an example of pleasure – but it is. It shows the fun that can be had when you revert to a chronological approach to hanging after years of a thematic straightjacket.
The Munnings picture might be technically brilliant, as the horses are vividly depicted, but it is completely out of time and in some ways irrelevant. The aristocratic splendour harks back to a time before the war when Britain had the largest empire in the history of the world and pretends that things have not changed, when everyone knows they have. An excellent example of how something can be good (technically) and bad (conceptually) at the same time, it was painted 5 years after the one beside it (which might not be cutting edge but at least shows something of the spirit of the age).
In fact when you look round this room of the interwar years you can see a huge fracturing of styles and you get a sense of the struggle of different artists to come to terms with a changed world order, both politically and artistically, after the great trauma of a war unlike any other. It is illuminating to see more than one approach. Art history is too often presented as a simple linear thread, a main highway if you like, and it is good to be reminded that there were other smaller roads (that might not have gone anywhere in particular) that offered a different view.
P.S. Munnings is a central character in the film ‘Summer in February’ where he is routinely described as being a genius. From this distance it is hard to understand why unless it was describing a force of personality that cannot be transmitted through his painting