Henry Scott Tuke 1858-1929
"Went to Bastien-Lepage’s studio, saw many things of surpassing beauty. He was very pleasant and told me I might bring something to show him." Henry Scott Tuke in 1882 in Paris, where he met Jules Bastien-Lepage, John Singer Sargent and Oscar Wilde.
Like many of his artist contemporaries, Tuke had an auspicious start in life. Henry Scott Tuke was born the second child to Daniel Hack Tuke and Esther Maria Stickney in York in 1858. Tuke’s father was a leading authority in the treatment of mental illnesses, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and author of several books on mental illness which still serve as reference material for students today. The Tukes were Quakers and well established in York with philanthropic establishments to their name including several Quaker schools and The Friends Retreat, which continues to the present day. The family moved to Falmouth in 1861 after Daniel showed symptoms of tuberculosis. He recovered his strength in Falmouth and set up a surgery on Wood Lane.
In Falmouth Henry showed an early aptitude for art, drawing the ships he saw in the harbour from an early age. In 1874, when Henry was 15, the family moved to London to give Henry’s brother Willy the opportunity to study medicine at University College. After considerable persuasion, Henry’s parents also agreed he could test his artistic prowess by enrolling at the Slade School of Art. Whilst Daniel Tuke financed his son’s entrance to Slade, the young student clearly blossomed there winning a three year scholarship in 1877. Edward Poynter was Professor at the Slade and an early influence upon Tuke and ultimately his principal choice of subject, with the master’s emphasis on painting the nude from life. The grounding that Slade provided in draftsmanship and the human form stood Tuke in good stead for the rest of his career. A lifelong friend, Thomas Cooper Gotch was a contemporary at the college.
From London, Tuke travelled to Europe to attend the Paris Atelier of Jean Paul Laurens. Enroute he visited Florence absorbing the Titians and works of Correggio but perhaps more influentially, the encouragement of en plain-air painter Arthur Lemon.
Arriving in Paris in 1881, Tuke’s enrolment in the studio of Jean Paul Laurens was not without its challenges, the other students having to agree new entrants. Fortunately, his friend from the Slade, Thomas Gotch, was also a former student at Lauren’s Atelier and able to help Tuke gain entry. In Paris, Tuke met Oscar Wilde, John Singer Sargent and Jules Bastien-Lepage. He visited Lepage in his studio and was greatly impressed by the father of the en plein air movement, writing in 1882, "went to Bastien-Lepage’s studio, saw many things of surpassing beauty. He was very pleasant and told me I might bring something to show him". Like many of his British contemporaries, Tuke was profoundly affected by Lepage and his total commitment to painting en plein-air. Tuke remained a dedicated en plein-air painter throughout his life. Tuke also visited John Singer Sargent in his Paris studio reflecting "I think I shall gather a good deal from Sargent, he is much the most talented of all my acquaintances". Sargent was an inspiration for the sort of life Tuke wished for as an artist. Sargent used his portraiture to afford him space and the financial means to pursue his true artistic ambitions. In handling paint, Sargent’s freer brushwork, himself influenced by Claude Monet, also had a lasting impact.
Back in England in September 1883, Tuke moved to Newlyn following the death of his brother Willy from tuberculosis and the return of the family to London. Tuke followed Slade and Paris Atelier friends Fred Millard, Albert Chevallier Tayler and William Wainwright to Newlyn and was a founding member of the Newlyn School. He lodged in a room in the Trewarveneth Street home of local fisherman Philip Harvey, which enjoyed a good harbour view. In Harvey’s tackle cellar Tuke executed his first major Newlyn work in 1883, Ship Builders with young models Sarah Ann Stevenson and Jimmy Man Johns. The painting was shown in the newly formed Nineteenth Century Society and bought by dealer Charles Dowdeswell, representing the start of a long and mutually successful association. This inaugural Newlyn painting is an early example of the artist employing a single light source which was to become a signature of the Newlyn School. Dowdeswell established the first of his New Bond Street galleries in 1878.
In 1885 Sarah Ann Stevenson again featured in Tuke’s ‘In the Orchard’, which was Walter Langley’s Newlyn orchard. That same year Tuke decided to return to Falmouth rekindling his childhood passion for boats and sailing. Hemy was already there. Maria Tuke describes how her brother found his new home, “He returned in May 1885 and walked out to Pennance Point and found his future lodgings at Pennance Cottage". The cottage was above Swanpool Beach with dazzling views east across Falmouth Bay towards Pendennis Castle and St Anthony’s lighthouse. Pennance remained Tuke’s modest Falmouth residence until the end of his life, 45 years later.
In Falmouth, Tuke adopted two environments in pursuit of his art. The secluded and mostly deserted beaches, like Newporth, stretching along the coast from Swanpool to Maenporth presented the perfect opportunity to pursue his study of the male nude in a natural en plein-air setting.
The second environment came more within Tuke’s grasp when a French Brigantine, Julies of Nantes, was put up for auction in Falmouth having been condemned as unseaworthy. Tuke bought the boat and so gave himself the perfect platform from which to observe and paint his second love, maritime subject matter. The Julie’s deck and interior were painted green to better contrast with Tuke’s human subjects and the boat soon rewarded this investment when ‘All Hands to the Pumps’ was bought by the Chantry bequest for the nation in 1889 for £420. Tuke increasingly worked and lived on the Julie, moored off the Greenbank, and was visited there by his Newlyn comrades including Stanhope Forbes who reflected ‘…how odd though agreeable for Tuke this choice of environment was. It is a strange life to lead but it suits him exactly and he has subjects all around him such as he likes to paint best of all.’
Back on land, Tuke’s boatmanship overcame the challenge of hauling large canvases and heavy wooden easels onto virtually inaccessible beaches below Pennance Point, by simply arriving by boat. There Tuke was able to pursue his first artistic love of painting the male nude in natural surroundings. However, whilst the art establishment and RA of the 1890s accepted allegorical depictions of nudes, Tuke’s natural contemporary settings with the nudity unsanitised by any classical context were too shocking for many of his Victorian peers. Tuke was able to exhibit his preferred subject matter at the New English Art Club, a modernising alternative to the RA but initially conformed to the RA's expectations in submitting works such as the allegorical Perseus and Andromeda at the Academy.
In 1891 Falmouth was pounded by violent storms and Tuke lost a number of boats, the Julie being mortally damaged and consequently sold a year later. The loss of his marine studio heralded a more land locked period, rooted around Pennance Cottage.
By the mid-1890s Tuke’s reputation as a master of the human form was established. Tuke was an admirer of Whistler’s compositions and visited him in his London Tite Street studio. He was drawn by the great artist’s use of mood rather than narrative in titling his pictures and Tuke’s most famous painting, 'August Blue', reflects this. It’s purchase by the Chantry bequest for the Tate collection for £525 in 1894 evidences the art establishment’s growing acceptance of Tuke’s subject matter and an acknowledgement of his talent. For the young artist, it represented a remarkable second sale to the nation’s new Tate Gallery.
In 1900 Tuke was made Associate of the RA, a significant step in his career. As was the fashion, he went up to London to be wined and dined by Royal Academicians before returning to Falmouth to a banquet held in his honour at the Poly. Tuke was heavily involved in the Cornwall Polytechnic Society, exhibiting regularly and was elected its Vice President in 1899. In 1891 he painted 'Ruby, Gold and Malachite', his most accomplished painting since 'August Blue' and purchased by the Corporation of London for their collection in the Guildhall.
From 1904 to 1914 Tuke was most progressive as a painter embracing Impressionism, particularly in his watercolour works. It was in this medium that Tuke best showed his spontaneity and natural instinct to capture his impression of the subject. In 1904 Tuke was elected a member of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour. The society presented Tuke with another commercial avenue which he fully capitalised upon, selling 120 pictures there between 1904 and 1927. Tuke’s particular interest with watercolour was in capturing the light on the water. He never used black in his shadows but an intense ultramarine blue gives them intensity. In 1904 Tuke took a Mediterranean trip painting in Genoa, Leghorn (now Livorna), Santa Margherita and Siestra. Throughout he was experimenting with different focal points within his compositions; the rigging of foreground ships in harbours defined against loosely washed-in buildings. He was to return to Geneo, Leghorn and Alassio in 1912 and further develop these watercolour techniques, this time painting his most impressionistic works including Genoa, now in the Falmouth Art Gallery collection. Upon his return to London he put on his first one man show under the title ‘Along the Italian Riviera’ showing 55 watercolours at Dowdeswell’s New Bond Street Galleries. His ability in watercolour was saluted in 1911 when he was made a full member of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour.
On 8th May 1914 Tuke was elected a full member of the RA, a long overdue accolade. The outbreak of WW1 put a stop to Tuke’s en plein-air painting as such activities were banned until he obtained a permit in 1917. Tuke’s art was further frustrated when most of his young models signed up, a number of them sadly never returning. The land around a Pennance Cottage was given over to a rifle range, causing further, if understandable disruption. Tuke was nevertheless able to continue working. He was granted permission to paint on board captured German ships and executed works such as Pulley Hayley, exhibited at the RA in 1915. Tuke also did his bit for the war effort contributing half the value of sales, such as 'The Good Catch', to the war fund. During the war, Tuke supplemented his and his family’s rationed diet with line caught fish.
Tuke lost a lot his circle of friends and family during the war years: some of his models-cum-friends including Maurice Clift; artist compatriots Charles Napier Hemy and William Ayerst Ingram, his mother and cherished housekeeper Elizabeth Fouracre. Tuke’s friend and former tenant Colin Kennedy became his companion and lived with him in his house at Swanpool from the end of the war until Tuke died.
As well as an accomplished painter of the human form and portrait artist Tuke was an important maritime artist. He revelled in the detail of a fully rigged barque or windjammer and since childhood could draw such from memory. His choice of Falmouth was predicated upon the opportunity it presented to capture square rigged sailing ships. Most of Tuke’s marine paintings were of ships moored in Falmouth’s deep water harbour through to Carrick Roads. He rarely painted ships in full sail preferring to observe them static in the harbour with sails furled or drying at anchor. His principal medium for this subject matter was watercolour. He recorded many important square rigged ships including Captain Scott’s Discovery and the Cutty Sark, moored at Falmouth before making its way to its final resting place at Greenwich. He regularly included local landmarks like St Anthony’s lighthouse and Falmouth and St Mawes Castles. Tuke continued to record tall ships in Falmouth in watercolour up until 1927.
Tuke travelled to the Caribbean in Nov 1923 and spent 4 months there travelling through the islands painting and exploring. Unfortunately, he also contracted malaria. The artist suffered a heart attack in February 1928 and although he recovered adequately to return to Pennance Cottage, he complained of the bitterly cold east winds and his health worsened. Henry Scott Tuke died in March 1929 and is buried at the top of Falmouth Cemetery overlooking Swanpool and Falmouth Bay, close to his friend and fellow Falmouth artist, Charles Napier Hemy.
From 7 June to 12 Sept, 2021 a major exhibition at the Watts Gallery celebrates the life and work of Henry Scott Tuke. Ship Builders is one of the exhibited works.
Cooper, Emmanuel (2003) The Life and Work of Henry Scott Tuke, Heretic Books
Falmouth Art Gallery Collection volume 6 (2005), Falmouth Tukes, Falmouth Art Gallery
Sainsbury, Maria Tuke (1933) Henry Scott Tuke: A Memoir
Wainwright, David & Dinn, Catherine (1989) Henry Scott Tuke 1858–1929: under canvas, Sarema Press
Wallace, Catherine (2008) Catching the Light: the art and life of Henry Scott Tuke 1858–1929, Edinburgh: Atelier Books
Wallace, Catherine (2008) The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society Tuke Collection Henry Scott Tuke Paintings From Cornwall, Halsgrove