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Henry Scott Tuke - Gifted Gallery

T. E. Lawrence at Newporth Beach, near Falmouth

Henry Scott Tuke RA RWS, born 12 June 1858, was an English visual artist; primarily a painter, but also a photographer. His most notable work was in the Impressionist style, and he is probably best known for his paintings of young male nudes.

Henry Scott Tuke in 1872, aged about 14 years

Tuke was encouraged to draw and paint from an early age and some of his earliest drawings—from when he was four or five years old—were published in 1895. His sister Maria described their childhood in Falmouth as "a very happy and healthy one" and the long summer days spent on the beach and swimming in the sea had a lasting effect on Tuke; other enduring memories were the firm friendships the young Tuke formed. It was in Falmouth that the young Tuke had been introduced to the pleasures of nude sea bathing, a habit he would continue into old age.

In 1874 Tuke moved to London and in the following year enrolled in the Slade School of Art under Alphonse Legros and Sir Edward Poynter. Initially his father paid for his tuition but in 1877 Tuke won a scholarship, which allowed him to continue his training at the Slade and in Italy in 1880.

Henry Scott Tuke, Harbour Dielette, Normandy, 1883

From 1881 to 1883 he was in Paris where he met Jules Bastien-Lepage, who encouraged him to paint en plein air (the act of painting outdoors).

While he lived in Paris he studied with the French history painter Jean-Paul Laurens and met the American painter John Singer Sargent (who was also a painter of male nudes, although this was little known in his lifetime).

While studying in France, Tuke decided to move to Newlyn Cornwall where many of his Slade and Parisian friends had already formed the Newlyn School of painters. This small colony of artists included Walter Langley, Albert Chevallier Tayler and Thomas Cooper Gotch.

Tuke complete his first painting at Newlyn in 1884 of boys in boats. Tuke received several lucrative commissions there, after exhibiting his work at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

Tuke painted oil studies of young male nudes during a tour of Italy in his early twenties in 1881, but the theme did not become central to his work until after 1885, when he had moved to Falmouth, then still a secluded part of Cornwall and a part of the country with a very mild climate that was more agreeable for nude bathing.

Sketch for 'Hermes at The Pool'

In his early paintings, Tuke placed his male nudes in mythological contexts, but the critics found these works to be rather formal and lifeless. Tuke abandoned mythological themes and began to paint purely 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.

He settled at Swanpool and bought a fishing boat for £40, 'Julie of Nantes', and converted it into a floating studio and living quarters.

He rented two rooms in Pennance Cottage, situated between Pennance Point and Swanpool Beach. The cottage remained Tuke's permanent base until his death, although he often lived aboard boats. Here he could indulge his passion for painting the male form. His early models were brought down from London but he soon befriended some of the local fishermen and swimmers in Falmouth who became his close friends and models.

Falmouth Beach with Tuke's house in view

Due to Tuke's habit of interchanging heads and bodies of his models in his paintings, it is often not possible to identify each figure exactly. All of Tuke's regular models were eventually called up during the First World War, and some did not return, including Maurice Clift (a model for August Blue) who was killed in France. One of Tuke's favourite models, Nicola Lucciani, was tragically killed during the First World War. Following his death, a devastated Tuke donated July Sun which features young Lucciani to the Royal Academy.

Tuke established an art gallery in Falmouth with William Ayerst Ingram as a commercial outlet mainly for their own paintings. He would often commute to London as Falmouth was well served with a railway service and he was not therefore isolated from the London art scene. He produced numerous portraits of society figures, local officials and members of the Tuke family circle. He also painted many more saleable landscapes and was well regarded as a painter of ships in sail. Among his best known portraits is that of soldier and writer T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia").

Henry Scott Tuke, 1885

During the 1880s Tuke also met Oscar Wilde and other prominent poets and writers such as John Addington Symonds, most of whom were homosexual (then usually called Uranian) and who celebrated the adolescent male. He wrote a "sonnet to youth" which was published anonymously in The Artist, and also contributed an essay to The Studio.

Tuke's sexuality cannot be confirmed but he openly embraced the Uranian world. In his poem "sonnet to youth", he laments the loss of the erotic freedom of ancient Greece in modern 'starveling times of dearth' where the 'wine' of natural (pre-Christian) desire is banned and rallies for the youth to 'take again thy rightful crown, in lovers hearts to reign!'

Tuke's paintings of nude youths are never explicitly sexual. They are almost never in physical contact with each other, and there is never any suggestion of overt sexuality.

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.

Samuel under a Tree, Jamaica

In later life he was in poor health for many years, and died in Falmouth in 1929 and was buried in a Falmouth cemetery close to his home. Tuke kept a detailed diary all his life but only two volumes survived after his death and have since been published. He also kept a detailed artist's Register which survives and has been published by the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in Falmouth.

After his death, Tuke's reputation faded, and he was largely forgotten until the 1970s, when he was rediscovered by the first generation of openly gay artists and art collectors. He has since become something of a cult figure in gay cultural circles, with lavish editions of his paintings published and his works fetching high prices at auctions. Elton John is a keen collector of Tuke's works, receiving a Tuke original from Freddie Mercury following his death in 1991, and in 2008 loaned eleven of his own pieces, including works in oil, pastel and watercolour, for an exhibition in Falmouth.



The Art and Life of Henry Scott Tuke Paintings from Cornwall

Catherine Wallace Catherine Wallace


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