When he had the chance to paint for himself, however, Munnings focused on detailed scenes capturing different parts of the race day. He almost never painted the race itself, but preferred to show the crowd gathering around the paddock, or the parade ring afterwards. The start of the race was his favourite subject, despite (or because) of the challenge in trying to accurately capture the moments of high tension as equine muscles tensed before they sprung forward into their first strides.
This image of the start of a horse race at Newmarket shows the bleakness of the Heath in mid October and the contrast of the ball of colour as the horses and jockeys prepare to line up. As a horseman himself, he was challenged by the need to depict the horse accurately.
In fact, Munnings was known to have studied carefully the work of predecessor George Stubbs, whose quest to represent a horse’s conformation led him to dissect them and produce an equine anatomy book in 1766 showing the bones and ligaments previously invisible beneath the skin.