It is the cluttered front room of a Warrington council house: gas fire set into a tiled surround, glass-fronted cabinet housing treasured knick-knacks; shoes tucked under a chair; magazines and books piled up. And in the middle, an easel, surrounded by tubes of paint and jars of brushes.
The room is where Eric Tucker, an artist virtually unknown until his death in 2018 but since compared to LS Lowry, painted people in the pub and on the street, gossiping, reading, smoking, playing cards.
It has been recreated at a Mayfair gallery, using furniture and personal items from the home Tucker shared for decades with his mother. “This is it, this is the room to a T,” said Karen Kenna, the artist’s younger sister.
A few streets away, another upmarket Mayfair gallery has been transformed into a 1960s pub, with a dark wood-panelled bar, a jar of pickled eggs, and ashtrays filled with dog-ends. The scene is typical of the pubs frequented – and painted – by Tucker.
The galleries – Alon Zakaim Fine Art and Connaught Brown – are exhibiting 46 of Tucker’s oil paintings and watercolours this month. Three days before the exhibition opened to the public, more than 20 had already been sold.
Tucker, who was born in 1932, had a variety of jobs after leaving school at 14, including gravedigging and unloading lorries at a construction yard. “He’d come in from his shift and paint into the night and at weekends,” said his nephew Joe Tucker. “He had a compulsion to paint whenever he had the time.”
It wasn’t until the end of Tucker’s life that his family realised how much he had painted, and how good his work was. His brother Tony – Joe’s father – said last year: “I knew he painted in the front room and that there were some paintings upstairs, but I had no real sense of how much material there really was.
“I looked upstairs in the bedrooms, which were piled high with art around the walls and even on the beds. Later on I realised there were paintings in the loft, under the stairs and even in the shed at the back of the house. The whole business was pretty startling.”
Tucker was self-taught, visiting galleries and museums in Manchester and, occasionally, London. He painted what he saw around him, mainly street scenes and people in pubs. But he didn’t show his work, and the only time he sold a couple of paintings he was so outraged at the commission taken by the dealer that he vowed never to do it again.
“I once saw him drawing in a pub, on scraps of paper beneath the table,” said Joe. “Even as a kid of about eight, I could see he was picking out the most interesting characters. He’d do three or four quick sketches, and then paint them later.
“I spent a lot of time with him as a child. He’d pick me up from school. His jacket was held together with Sellotape, he cut his own hair with kitchen scissors. He was fun and funny.”
After Tucker died in 2018 and his siblings discovered the extent of his work, the family decided to stage an exhibition in his home. “We turned the house into a gallery, and we thought maybe some of the neighbours would come.” About 2,000 people visited over two days.
A retrospective at the Warrington Museum and Art Gallery followed, and in 2020 Connaught Brown and Alon Zakaim Fine Art displayed 14 of Tucker’s watercolours online. All sold within hours.
Tucker had “a style of his own, a way of telling a story that is unique and distinctive”, said Alon Zakaim. “You get transported back to a time and place, you know immediately what you’re looking at.”
Comparisons with Lowry were swiftly made. “He was interested in Lowry as a painter from the north who painted what was around him. Lowry was certainly an influence,” said Joe. But Tucker also drew on impressionism and post-impressionism.
It was hard to say what Tucker would have made of the Mayfair exhibitions and re-creations of his home and local pub, said Joe. “This is so far removed from his world. I think he would feel gratified – I think he felt that his work had value. But he’d also be saying: why have you done it like this? He’d have a few complaints.”