Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S.
- Portrait of Mrs. Bayard Tuckerman
- signed A.J. Munnings (lower right)
- oil on canvas
Thence by descent through the family to the present owner
From their engagement in 1916, Bayard and Phyllis Sears Tuckerman were considered one of the most striking couples of New England. As one society columnist noted they “afford an unfailing centre of interest, and I never saw a more attractive couple…. [she] is so winsome, so good to look upon and so happy, and Mr. Tuckerman… so manly and so athletic, that it is a joy to watch them” (“Recently Engaged Girls Noted Among Society Throngs at the Opera, Boston Sunday Post, April 9, 1916, p. 53). Beyond her beauty Mrs. Tuckerman was recognized as a “leader in society’s ‘athletic set’” a “noted horse-woman” with “riding… one of her favorite pastimes” (Boston’s Richest Girl is to Marry, Boston Post, April 3, 1916, p. 1). Her energy and elegance entranced Munnings on their first meeting, his finished portrait perfectly illustrating his remembrance of her as: “one of the best-looking women I have ever painted— fair haired, with a beautiful complexion, good features, the best-cut nose in the world, and a lovely chin. Wearing a silk hat and well-cut habit, she was perfection, and was as nice as she looked” (Munnings p. 165-6). Munnings acknowledged the challenge and pressure of faithfully capturing his sitters’ likenesses, explaining “the mere righting of a nose in the picture and I am cheered” (Munnings, p. 211). As such he likely painted Mrs. Tuckerman first in studio and in separate sessions from her chestnut mare, Desert Queen (the same horse ridden by the Prince of Wales on his visit to their Hamilton estate in the fall of 1924). In the present work the open blue-grey sky frames Mrs. Tuckerman riding sidesaddle, a pose the artist found “the essence of grace and symmetry,” while the vast, uncluttered landscape increases the viewer’s awareness of Munnings’ sensitivity to equine form (Sir Alfred Munnings, The Finish, London, 1952, p. 27). The horse is not only anatomically correct but is rendered with convincing vitality and soild substance, built with layers of varying shades of brown, from rich russet to lightest buff, to suggest the sheen of the animal’s musculature. Munnings repeatedly and carefully observed both horse and rider in order to create a testament to both a lively, lovely woman of the early twentieth century and his own highly personal artistic vision.