The Art of Henry Scott Tuke (1858 — 1929)
If nude paintings of young men (not pornographic) are not to your liking, go back.
All Hands to the Pumps, 1888–9, oil on canvas, 1854 × 1397 mm; Tate Gallery, presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889
Besides nude boys, Tuke’s main subject was the depiction of the sea.
He was himself a great enthusiast of nude bathing which he continued to do into old age.
Tuke himself wrote a poem that he published anonymously in The Artist:
Sonnet to Youth
Youth standing sweet, triumphant by the sea,
All freshness of the day
And all the light
Of morn of thy white limbs, firm, bared and bright.
If these paintings appeal to you, you might be interested in photographs and paintings by Thomas Eakins, Gustave Caillebotte, Emile Friant, Harold Harvey, Evelyn De Morgan, Juan Bela y Morales. These do contain explicit male nudity, so don’t go there if you’re likely to be offended by them.
Morning Splendour; Painting in Baden Powell House
(Headquarters of the Boy Scouts movement)
Head of Nicola,
oil on canvas, 1913, 41.9 cm x 52 cm,
signed ‘H. S. Tuke’ (upper right),
painted in 1913.
This is a portrait of Tuke’s Italian model Nicola Lucciani. With his deeply tanned, olive brown skin, dark curly hair and almost black brown eyes, Nicola provided a more exotic colouring than Tuke’s usual models, made up of local Cornish working lads. Nicola was the first professional model Tuke had used since his first paintings of the nude outdoors painted in Falmouth in 1885 when the model was a cockney lad, Walter Shilling.
Tuke had started teaching at the Royal Academy Schools in January 1913 and that is possibly where he met Lucciani. Tuke notes in his register of paintings that this particular portrait of Nicola was painted in his garden at Swanpool, Falmouth in Cornwall in 1913. He also mentions working from the model in his garden in a letter to his mother in 1913.
This portrait head and shoulders of Nicola can be seen as a study in preparation for Tuke’s important work called Fawn which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1914, as this painting also features Nicola Lucciani arms outstretched grabbing branches of green shrubs that surround him. The few differences being that Fawn is a three-quarter-length nude portrait of Nicola and was, according to Tuke’s register, painted at the back of Newporth beach, Falmouth.
The painting of Nicola titled Fawn was exhibited the year Tuke became a full Royal Academician.
Nicola therefore can be seen to have played a key part in Tuke’s election as a Royal Academician, as he was the model that Tuke featured in Tuke’s diploma work for the Royal Academy Bathing Group painted in 1913. Nicola also featured in another painting of that year called July Sun, which Tuke boasted he painted ‘practically in one sitting’; Tuke gave July Sun to the Royal Academy in 1914.
Like so many of Tuke’s young male models at this time, they were called up or volunteered to fight in the Great War. Some returned, but Nicola was one of the unlucky ones and he was killed in 1916 at Trentino in his native Italy. The fact that this beautiful young man only had three more years to live, adds to the poignancy of this particular painting and reminds us that Tuke captured ‘A lost generation of youth’.
References in the text are from B.D.Price, ed. The Registers of Henry Scott Tuke (1858 — 1929), Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, 1983:  no. R765;  no. R790;  no. R766.
The models in his paintings used to be boys he brought from London at first, but eventually he befriended local youths who would often model for him.
They are known by name: Edward John “Johnny” Jackett (1878—1935), Charlie Mitchell (who looked after Tuke’s boats), Willie Sainsbury (Tuke’s eldest nephew), Leo Marshall, Georgie and Richard Fouracre, George Williams (younger son of close neighbours), Maurice Clift (nephew of a family friend), Ainsley Marks, Jack Rowling, Freddy Hall, Bert White and Harry Cleave. All of his regular models were sent to fight in WWI and some, including Maurice Clift who died in France, never returned.
Photo of Tuke
by Thomas Gun
taken during the 1880s.
The Sun Worshipper, 1904
Henry Scott Tuke was born in York into a Quaker family in 1858, and went to live in Falmouth, Cornwall, in 1860. The happy memories of Tuke’s childhood spent on the beaches around Falmouth, watching the tall ships coming into the harbour from all over the world, helped his decision 23 years later to return to live firstly in Newlyn then in Falmouth where he remained for the rest of his life.
Hermes, date unknown
Title not known
Title not known, 1904
In his early paintings, Tuke placed his male nudes in mythological contexts, but the critics found these works to be rather formal, lifeless and flaccid. From the 1890s, Tuke abandoned mythological themes and began to paint local boys fishing, sailing, swimming and diving, and also began to paint in a more naturalistic style. His handling of paint became freer, and he began using bold, fresh colour.
One of his best known paintings from this period is August Blue, 1893, bought for the nation (Tate Gallery) in 1894 (in the Peter Paul Rubens Gallery). Looe artist, Lindsay Symington (1872 — 1942), modelled for the blonde boy holding onto the boat in the water; though not a regular model, Symington was a good friend of Tuke, the latter often visiting the Symington family home, Pixies’ Holt, at Dartmeet.
This painting, having been bought for the nation, heralded Tuke’s arrival as an important artist of the late Victorian era.
Gleaming Waters, 1910
Initially, Tuke returned to Newlyn after the tragically early death of his only brother William Tuke in 1883 from tuberculosis, to paint alongside his fellow ex-students from the Slade School of Fine Art in London and the Ateliers of Paris.
Most of his paintings from Newlyn are quite dark interiors set in Philip Harvey’s fishing tackle cellar in Trewarveneth Street, where Tuke rented rooms. His subjects were the local children such as Ambrose Rouffignac posing with a model boat or eating his dinner.
Newlyn was where Tuke started to get a taste for all things nautical. He bought his first boat The Ripple, there, and he did his first painting of boys sitting in a small rowing boat on a sunny day in Newlyn harbour. But it was Falmouth that won his heart in the end, and he moved into rented rooms at Pennance Cottage at Pennance point near Swanpool in 1885.
Pennance cottage was also, it seems, chosen by Tuke because if its proximity to some secluded and fairly inaccessible beaches such as Newporth beach. These beaches were vital to the subject that he created as his greatest artistic challenge, painting the nude human figure outdoors. From 1900 to 1914 he was at the height of his powers as a painter and experimented with impressionist techniques. This can be seen in his stunning figure composition Midsummer Morning, 1908.
Tuke painted some female nudes but these were not
as successful as his male nude paintings.
Midsummer Morning, 1908;
signed and dated ‘H.S. TUKE.1908’ (lower right);
oil on canvas, 72¼ × 54 in. (183.5 × 137.2 cm.)
The Bather, 1924
Noonday Heat, 1902
Study for Noonday Heat, 1911
Noonday Heat, 1911
Youth on Beach, 1920
The beaches were an ideal setting as they were south facing, usually bathed in sunshine and had interesting barnacle encrusted rocks and shallow warm pools for the models to stand around. Tuke had started painting the nude figure whilst studying at the Slade in London where he won prizes for his life painting. But it was in Italy that he first painted male youths outdoors in 1881.
The Sun Bathers
Boy in the Cove
July Sun, 1913; Royal Academy of the Arts, London
A Boy with an Oar
After the Bathe
Boys Bathing, 1908, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
Ruby Gold And Malachite
Ruby Gold And Malachite, Oil, 1902
The boy on the rocks was Charlie Mitchell (see below). Mitchell was Tuke’s boatman for 30 years and in his will, Tuke left him £1,000 (worth about £40,000 today)
Charlie Mitchell (1885 — 1957), date unknown
After an inspirational trip some 11 years later in 1892 to the Mediterranean and the Greek island of Corfu, he came back wanting to paint the nude outdoors in Falmouth. He had attempted painting nude bathers as early as 1885 with a professional male model brought from London, but soon found this expensive and difficult. This was equally true when trying to obtain female models. In the end, Tuke asked the local lads to pose nude for him. Tuke always paid them and treated them with courtesy and consideration, although he demanded they were professional and sometimes asked them to model outdoors as late as November.
Tuke: Self-portrait, 1920
Boys Bathing on the Rocks, 1921; watercolour 22 × 14 cm, Bury Art Gallery and Museum, Lancashire
Although Tuke’s paintings of nude youths undoubtedly appealed to his gay friends and art-buyers, they are never explicitly sexual. The models’ genitals are almost never shown, they are almost never in physical contact with each other, and there is never any suggestion of overt sexuality. Most of the paintings have the nude models standing or crouching on the beach facing out to sea, so only the back view is displayed.
Charlie Seated on the Sand
The Sun Bathers
Youth in White Trousers, about 1900
Lovers of the Sun
Tuke’s twin abiding loves were the sea and boys; this caused quite a stir in Victorian and Edwardian England, but he was nonetheless a member of the Royal Academy.
Tuke enjoyed a considerable reputation, and he earned enough money from his paintings to enable him to travel abroad and he painted in France, Italy and the West Indies. In 1900 a banquet was held in his honour at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. He was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1914 and a Royal Academician in 1914. Works by Henry Scott Tuke are in public art collections across the world including at Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane in Australia, Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand and Munich, Germany as well as throughout the UK and Ireland.
Tuke favoured rough, visible brush strokes, at a time when a smooth, polished finish was favoured by fashionable painters and critics. He had a strong sense of colour and excelled in the depiction of natural light, particularly the soft, fragile sunlight of the English summer. Although Tuke often finished paintings in the studio, photographic evidence shows that he worked mainly in the open air, which accounts for their freshness of colour and the realistic effects of sunlight reflected by the sea and on the naked flesh of his models.
Two Boys on a Beach — a Study in Bright Sunlight, 1909
Nude on the Rocks, about 1917
Portrait of T E Lawrence, 1920s
Samuel Under a Tree, Jamaica, Oil on board
Two Boys and a Dog, about 1914
Under the Western Sun, 1917, oil on canvas, 59.5 x 44.5 inches
Scott: Portrait of a young man
Best known for his paintings of bathing boys, Henry Scott Tuke was in fact, a very diverse and talented artist in a variety of subjects and media. His first commissions were portraits of family and friends, including other Quakers such as the Fox family. Tuke was also known as great maritime artist, a very accurate depicter of every kind of sailing craft from Lowestoft fishing boats that came to Falmouth in the winter, to wooden and steel hulled sailing ships such as barques and brigantines, to smaller quay punts and yawls.
Figure Study for Aquamarine, 1928
Aquamarine, 1928 — 1929; private collection
Three Companions, 1905; private collection
Bathing Group, 1914
Boy on the Beach
Portrait of Johnny Jackett
A Bathing Group, 1904?
A Standing Male Nude
Steering the Punt
“I learnt to swim in India, in a pool donated to the school by the Edwardian cricketer Ranjitsinhji. I was the only English boy in the school. My father was the headmaster, and Sir K.S Ranjitsinghji, the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, its most eminent old-boy, though he was only one prince among many there. Sometimes his successor allowed us to bathe in the flooded subterranean vaults of his palace nearby, among columns that disappeared mysteriously into black water. On the walls of the palace above there still hung Tuke’s paintings of bathing boys that the Jam Saheb had collected during his cricketing years in England.” – the opening passage of Charles Sprawson’s book Haunts of the Black Masseur.
Major examples of his male nudes were purchased by major art galleries including The Bathers at Leeds Art Gallery and August Blue at the Tate in London. But he was also well known as a portraitist, and maintained a London studio to work on his commissions. Among his best known portraits is that of soldier and writer T E Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”).
Tuke died in 1929 aged 71