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An art historian does wonders with wall space

At home with Paul Tucker

CHARLESTOWN -- Most of the houses that line Monument Square are stately brick Victorians, many of which were rooming houses from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. Even in 1979, when Paul Hayes Tucker and his wife, Maggie Moss-Tucker, purchased their four-story 1850s manse, it came with nine boarders. When the last one left in 1989, the couple began renovating it into a one-family home.

Tucker, 54, a world-renowned authority on the Impressionists and specifically on Claude Monet, teaches art history at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. As one might expect of an art aficionado, the walls throughout the house are lined with paintings and drawings. Just inside the door, guests are greeted by an imposing collection of 19th-century drawings, set against rich, brick-red walls. One can imagine Tucker descending the stairs to the foyer, pausing mid-step to study a particular piece or perhaps noticing a subtlety he'd previously missed.

''I much prefer original works of art by unknown artists than reproductions," he says.

An authentic Monet is out of Tucker's league, yet he's just as happy, he says, enjoying the artist's works in the various museums and private collections he has visited around the world.

A ''deeply satisfying dream come true," he says, was when he arranged the 1990 Museum of Fine Arts exhibit ''Monet in the '90s," uniting the artist's cathedral paintings under one roof. Another coup was bringing a never-before-seen Monet ''water lilies" diptych to the ''Monet in the 20th Century" show that he curated in 1998.

''Boston has rich holdings in Impressionist art," Tucker acknowledges, ''but needs to become engaged more with 20th- and 21st-century art."

That's what motivated Tucker to start Arts on the Point, the outdoor sculpture park along UMass-Boston's Columbia Point peninsula. Not without past controversy, the area now boasts a dozen sculptures ''that can be enjoyed 24/7," he says. Tucker concedes this wasn't his first or last conflict: ''Art is a magnet for awe and ire," he says knowingly.

Every room in the Tucker home is a venue for art, starting with the kitchen that features a large portrait of Tucker's grandfather, Carlton J. H. Hayes, a history professor at New York's Columbia University. Hanging in Tucker's second-floor study is a painting of Count Alfred de Nieuwerkerke, France's cultural minister in the mid-1800s. ''It's for revenge," he jokes, on behalf of the Impressionists who prevailed despite this man's more conservative preferences.

Another large chunk of revenge -- a billiard table -- dominates a fourth-floor room. Tucker and his six siblings had begged their father for a pool table, but never got one. The chilly and dimly lit room is one of Tucker's favorite spots in the house. ''I like to shoot pool, look at the drawings, and think," he says.

While Tucker methodically collected artwork over the years, he and his wife adopted a more haphazard approach to furnishings. A hodgepodge of furniture -- including family hand-me-downs, an upholstered armchair rescued from a dump, a 19th-century partners desk (for two workers to sit on opposite sides), and pieces from various travels -- fills the many rooms.

Tucker's study reveals the academician at work: Piles of books and papers are strewn about the room as he writes the catalogs for two New York museum collections as well as an essay on a contemporary sculptor. Art books that Tucker has accumulated since his undergraduate years at Williams College line the wall of a narrow room off his study, spilling over into Maggie's office. Thanks to technology, he says, Maggie, a public relations and marketing consultant, ''makes her office run anywhere we are."

In addition to art, family photographs are prominent in their home. Recent black-and-white portraits of Tucker, his wife, and two children, Jennie, 18, and Jonathan, 22, line a wall in the living room. Old family photographs of Tucker's parents and siblings line the stairs to the fourth floor.

Tucker claims no artistic talent himself, short of painting most of the walls and moldings in the house. He has a vibrant eye for color, though. His son's room is painted gray, Tucker's study is a warm ocher, and the master bedroom is a brilliant cobalt blue.

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