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James Walker Tucker

James Walker Tucker was born in Wallsend, a town not far from Newcastle, in Northumberland, North East England. He studied first at Armstrong College in Newcastle, and then at the Royal College of Art, London (1922-1927). Here he was taught by Sir William Rothenstein, before becoming Rothenstein’s personal studio assistant.

Tucker won a travelling scholarship to Italy, and on his return, he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Laing Art Gallery. Exhibitions at the Royal Academy followed, and also at the New English Art Club. He went on to become Head of Drawing and Painting at Gloucester College of Art (1931) where he taught until his retirement in 1963.

In his work, Tucker eschewed avant-garde experimentation and, like many of the inter-war artists – Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, Winifred Knights, Harold Williamson, and James Cowie amongst them – he preferred to stay with realism. But whilst firmly within this tradition, these artists were also modernisers, especially in the adoption of new subject matter. Tucker’s Hikers, for instance, captures something of the times: the Girl Guides, formed in 1910, were hugely popular, and young women had just witnessed their mothers’ horizons expand when, during the War, they had found jobs in support of the war effort. Hikers explores this theme: the women depicted are assured and confident and striding the world with new-found independence.

James Walker Tucker died in 1972. Initially his work was overlooked. During the 1920’s and 30’s abstract art was at its beginning – names like Paul Nash (see artists) Barbera Hepworth and Ben Nicholson were emerging – and realist art soon suffered in comparison. It had huge appeal when first exhibited, however, and certainly, with artists such as Tucker, it is easy to see why: there is a freshness, a vividness, and a directness to this work. And contemporary viewers welcome such works as Hikers, not only for its portrayal of independence, but also for its canvassing of pursuits such as hiking and exploration of the countryside – pursuits which today are experiencing an increasing revival.

National Galleries of Scotland; Museum of Gloucester; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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