Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S.
- Portrait of Mr. Bayard Tuckerman
- signed A.J. Munnings (lower right)
- oil on canvas laid on board
By descent through the family to the present owner
Munnings first painted Mrs. Tuckerman (see lot 72), and the result so impressed her husband that he requested his portrait as gentleman whip of the Hunt on a grey, his beloved Powder Puff, accompanied by hounds -- the selection of which inspired debate. According, to Munnings the “Myopia pack had a sprinkling of.., white hounds from Wales. They had whiskers, ears and tails like otter-hounds” and while their keen senses were an important asset in the rough terrain of the New England hunt, the artist found the animals disruptive to his aesthetic— refusing to include them until Tuckerman insisted. As the present work evidences, the result was a compromise: Munnings used “the smooth, good looking foxhounds around the house and the Welsh breed farther away” (Munnings, p. 166).
The push-pull dialogue between artist and patron points to both the inspiration and challenge of portrait painting, which began to dominate Munnings’ production in the 1920s. Following the tremendous success of his paintings of the hunt staff, hounds and horses of Major Tommy Busch, Master of the Belvoir Hunt at Belvoir Castle in 1921, the artist was inundated with commissions from English aristocrats and American industrialists and financiers (Claudia Pfeiffer, “Munnings, Out in the Open,” Munnings Out in the Open, exh. cat., National Sporting Library & Museum, Middleburg, Virginia, 2013, pp.51, 101). While the artist’s earlier hunting subjects relied on borrowed models (often his grooms or friends) dressed up in the scarlet coat and velvet cap of the foxhound, the equestrian portrait posed a series of challenges to work out to the mutual satisfaction of artist and sitter. As Munnings explained, the “professional portrait-painter has only his sitters to deal with… A painter of equestrian portraits has to begin with the portrait and the figure, with the right seat on the horse… Then comes the horse, then the sky and background” (Munnings, p. 210). With the Portrait of Bayard Tuckerman, Munnings brilliantly balances each element of the composition, employing an expressive series of swipes and dabs of layered pigments to not only describe but physically form the fields and hills beyond, while repeating shades of blue, white, ochre, and pale purple build up the sky and the grey’s glossy coat. Mr. Tuckerman is captured in a calm and almost contemplative moment as he rides alongside his hounds at work, and the long, straight lines of his coat and detailed profile are both finely realized— proving the artist could describe the character of his human subject with as much success as the equine.