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In 1892, aged fourteen, Alfred Munnings moved from his home village of Mendham in Suffolk to the city of Norwich. He was apprenticed for six years to the lithographic printers Page Bros. & Co., Ltd. Here he learnt to design advertisements and posters and undertook work for successful local companies such as Colman’s Mustard and Caley’s Crackers.


In 2022 the museum presents a vibrant display of Munnings’ lesser known commercial designs, posters, black and white pictures and early paintings. The exhibition focusses on the early influences on a young Munnings and his ability to capture the popular aesthetic of La Belle Epoque.


Experience highlights from the exhibition in this Art UK Curation.

Artists featured in this Curation: Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
14 artworks

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Lady with a Rose
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Lady with a Rose

Painted at Mendham, this original poster design was entered into the Poster Academy at Crystal Palace where it won the silver medal in 1899.

Lady with a Rose 1899
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Poster colour on paper
H 269.3 x W 99 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Flower Girl, Violets
© The Munnings Art Museum. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Flower Girl, Violets

Munnings was immersed in a new city environment, inspired by trips to the theatre and the new people that he met. These influences can be seen in both his commercial and personal work.

This composition places the woman in the foreground while the busy Norwich ‘street life’ whirled around behind her.

Flower Girl, Violets c.1904
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Oil on canvas
H 35.6 x W 45.7 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Design for an Advert, 'Colman's Mustard'
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Design for an Advert, 'Colman's Mustard'

The people of Norwich also inspired Munnings poster work. This design was never used.

Design for an Advert, 'Colman's Mustard' 1890s
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Poster colour on paper
H 27.5 x W 43 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Study of a Plaster Cast, 'Camellia'
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Study of a Plaster Cast, 'Camellia'

This painting, of a plaster cast, shows the level of detail demanded by Munnings tutor, Gertrude Offord, of her students at Norwich School of Art.

This was Munnings’ examination piece.

Later in the first volume of his Autobiography 'An Artists' Life' Munnings writes: “My artistic career began when my eyes were opened to all the never-ending wonders of perspective and light and shade”.

Study of a Plaster Cast, 'Camellia' 1893
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Sepia wash on paper
H 38 x W 28 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Lorna Doone
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Lorna Doone

In 1897 Munnings joined the Norwich Art Circle. It is likely that he was introduced to the circle by Gertrude Offord. He worked hard to create paintings worthy of submission to their twice yearly exhibitions.

“... all my efforts were made with the hope that I might shine there and perhaps sell my work.”

Each May, the Norwich Art Circle held a unique exhibition of black and white works. Munnings was an avid reader, he was very familiar with the classic Victorian novelists and poets. Often his submissions to these black and white exhibitions were imagined scenes depicting heroes and heroines of literature, like this pastel work 'Lorna Doone'.

Munnings was introduced to R.D. Blackmore’s novel Lorna Doone by a colleague at Page Bros.

Lorna Doone c.1898
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Pastel on paper
H 36 x W 17 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Design for a Box Top, 'Caley's Cycling Crackers'
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Design for a Box Top, 'Caley's Cycling Crackers'

Munnings learnt to design posters and advertising during the 1890s, at this time the poster craze was in full bloom.Facilitated by lithography’s ability to mass produce designs, the streets of Paris, Milan and Berlin were turned into public art galleries, ushering in the modern age of advertising.

Lithography uses a simple chemical process on a flatplate of stone or metal to create an image. The positiveimage is drawn onto the surface of the plate with a waterrepellent medium like a wax crayon. A printing ink and water mixture is applied to the plate. The ink sticks to the positive image and the water cleans the rest away.

Design for a Box Top, 'Caley's Cycling Crackers' c.1898
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Poster colour on paper
H 25 x W 20 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Cassie Jeweller
© The Munnings Art Museum. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Cassie Jeweller

Munnings used the local people that he knew as models for both his paintings and in his poster designs. The women are depicted in contemporary clothes with charming dresses, hats and attractive accessories.

Cassie Jeweller, Catherine Drummond Juler, posed for other Norwich artists as well as Munnings. Cassie is dressed in contemporary fashions dress signified by frilly sleeves, feathered hat and choker necklace.

Cassie Jeweller 1909
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Oil on canvas
H 163 x W 87 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Design for a Poster, 'Caley's Art Crackers'
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Design for a Poster, 'Caley's Art Crackers'

Design for a Poster, 'Caley's Art Crackers' c.1898
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Lithograph
H 73 x W 100 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Design for a Poster, 'Caley's Crackers'
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Design for a Poster, 'Caley's Crackers' Design for a Poster, 'Caley's Crackers'

Repeatedly, Munnings used fairy-tale fantasy creatures to inspire his illustrations. Cleverly using this fashionable imagery to make a winning design.

The Victorian era witnessed the growing popularity and publication of fairy and fantastical tales. The fascination with subject was instigated by the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll in 1865 which continued into the 20th century.

In this poster design for Caley's Crackers, Munnings has used many of the typical fairylike imagery such as wings, pointed ears and toadstools.

Design for a Poster, 'Caley's Crackers' 1890s
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Lithograph
H 56 x W 44 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Design for a Box Top, 'Caley's Deep Sea Crackers'
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Design for a Box Top, 'Caley's Deep Sea Crackers'

This cracker box top design includes the fantastical character of the mermaid.

Design for a Box Top, 'Caley's Deep Sea Crackers' 1890s
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Lithograph
H 22.5 x W 19.5 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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Pierrette (Reclining Lady)
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

Pierrette (Reclining Lady)

Munnings’ use of historical costume is key to the character creation in his poster designs. One of his most recognisable motifs is the Pierrot. During the 1880s and 90s the Pierrot figure became popular once again and could be found across all the visual arts.

Pierrette (Reclining Lady) 1898
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Poster colour on paper
H 133 x W 199 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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The Fancy Dress Ball
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

The Fancy Dress Ball

Here we get a glimpse of Munnings’ love of drama, costume and story-telling, as well as the strong influence of his adverting designs for Page Bros. It is also an example of Munnings’ exuberant use of colour and uninhibited, impressionistic, brush-work that were a feature of his painting in the early years of the 20th century.

Popular pierot and pierrette costumes were a fancy dress favourite of the 1890s and early 1900s. The costumes were easy to make and fit to a variety of sizes, using cheap and commercially available fabrics.

The Fancy Dress Ball 1901
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Oil on canvas
H 50.8 x W 30.8 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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A Lady Seated in a Park
© The Munnings Art Museum. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

A Lady Seated in a Park

Many of Munnings’ poster designs feature characters in Georgian costume. Munnings’ had a great fascination with the Georgian period. He refers to this in his autobiography: “This was the period of costume that I liked best of all.”

A Lady Seated in a Park 1903
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Oil on canvas
H 40.6 x W 30.5 cm
The Munnings Art Museum

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The Solo
© the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, Essex. Photo credit: The Munnings Art Museum

The Solo

Chosen from amongst 240 entries at the Poster Academy at Crystal Palace in London this design, of a man in Georgian costume playing a cello, won the gold medal.

Short of money, he sold the medal for six gold sovereigns and spent the money on a celebratory dinner. He later regretted parting with the prize but was unable to retrieve it.

The Solo 1899
Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)
Poster colour on cloth backed paper
H 193 x W 173 cm
The Munnings Art Museum