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Henry Scott Tuke, RAmarker (12 June 1858–13 March 1929), was a Britishmarker 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 depictions of nude boys and young men. Because of this, he is considered to be a pioneer of gay male culture.

Life and works

Tuke was born at Lawrence Street Yorkmarker, into a prominent Quakers family. His father, a well-known medical doctor specialising in psychiatry, Daniel Hack Tuke, was a campaigner for humane treatment of the insane. His great-great-grandfather William Tuke had founded the Retreatmarker at York, one of the first modern insane asylums, in 1792 . His great-grandfather Henry Tuke, grandfather Samuel Tuke and uncle James Hack Tuke were also well-known social activists. The Tuke family's ancestry can be traced back to Sir Brian Tuke, who served as an adviser to king Henry VIII of England (replacing Sir Thomas More). Tuke's religious affiliation is not easy to fathom, although he remained a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) all his life. Tuke's brother, Daniel qualified as a doctor but died young. His sister, Maria Sainsbury wrote a biography of her brother after his death.

In 1874 Tuke's family moved to Londonmarker, where he enrolled in the Slade School of Artmarker. The family had moved to Falmouth previously in order to gain a rest cure for his father after illness. It was in Falmouth that the young Tuke had been introduced to the pleasures of nude sea bathing, a habit he continued into old age. After graduating he traveled to Italymarker in 1880 , and from 1881 to 1883 he lived in Parismarker, where he studied with the French history painter Jean-Paul Laurens and met the Americanmarker painter John Singer Sargent (who was also a painter of male nudes, although this fact was little known in his lifetime).

During the 1880s Tuke also met Oscar Wilde and other prominent poets and writers such as John Addington Symonds, most of them homosexual (then usually called Uranian) 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 returned to Britain and moved to Newlynmarker, Cornwallmarker joining a small colony of artists. These included Walter Langley, Albert Chevallier Tayler and Thomas Cooper Gotch, a lifelong painter of the girl-child, who became a lifelong friend. These painters and others are known to art historians as the Newlyn School. He worked from Rose Cottage at Tregadgwith Farm Cornwallmarker at the head of the Lamorna valley.

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Henry Scott Tuke, "August Blue," 1893
In 1885 Tuke settled at Swanpool, near Falmouthmarker, a fishing port in Cornwallmarker, a part of the country, with a very mild climate which is more agreeable for nude open air activities. He bought a fishing boat for 40 pounds and converted it into a floating studio and living quarters. Here he could indulge his passion for painting boys in privacy. His early models were brought down from London but he soon befriended a variety of local fishermen and swimmers in Falmouth who became his close friends and models. Most of the models were not homosexual and Tuke's male friendships were probably mainly platonic. Most of his works depict boys and young men who swim, dive and lounge, usually naked or semi-clothed, on a boat or on the beach. He would often commute to London as Falmouth was well served with a railway service, so was not totally isolated from the London art scene. Tuke also 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.

In his early paintings, Tuke placed his male nudes in safely 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 color. One of his best known paintings from this period is August Blue (1893-1894), a study of four mostly nude youths bathing from a boat. The Looemarker 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. Tuke also painted a limited number of female nudes but these were not as successful as his male nude paintings.

Although Tuke's paintings of nude youths undoubtedly appealed to his homosexual 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.

Henry Scott Tuke, "Ruby, gold and malachite," 1902
Henry scott Tuke Noonday heat 1902 trouser less version
Noonday heat with trousers

Tuke formed close friendships with many of his models, but it has never been established that he was sexually involved with any of them, on either a romantic or commercial basis. Because of his subject matter, Tuke was unable to sell many of his works, except to a select circle of homosexual art collectors. However, 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").

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Henry Scott Tuke, "The Bathers"
Technically, Tuke favored rough, visible brushstrokes, 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. Had his choice of subject matter been more orthodox, Tuke might have become a major name in British painting: as it was he remained a niche painter.

Nevertheless, Tuke did enjoy a considerable reputation, and he did well enough from his painting to be able to travel abroad, painting in Francemarker, Italymarker and the West Indiesmarker. In 1900 a banquet was held in his honour at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. He was elected to the Royal Academy of Artsmarker in 1914 . In later life he was in poor health for many years, and died in Falmouth in 1929. 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.

Exhibitions and publications

During the 150th year after H.S. Tuke's birth, there were three exhibitions of his work:
  • 2008-05-03 to 2008-07-12: Catching the light: the sunshine paintings of Henry Scott Tuke.
  • 2008-09-06 to 2008-09-27: Tall ships.
  • 10 May – 12 July 2008: Catching the Light: A Retrospective of Henry Scott Tuke", Royal Cornwall Museummarker, Truro
  • 7 June – 12 July 2008: A Hidden Treasure Revealed: A selection of the works on paper by Henry Scott Tuke from the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.
  • 21 July - 28 August 2008: Catching the Light: The Art of Henry Scott Tuke at the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street,
A book by Catherine Wallace, to accompany the exhibitions, entitled Catching the Light: The Art and Life of Henry Scott Tuke, has been published..


The student halls of residence at University College Falmouthmarker are named after Tuke, a tribute to him as both an artist, and a famous resident of the town. At the time they were built and named, the school was known as the Falmouth College of Arts.



  • Emmanuel Cooper, The Life and Work of Henry Scott Tuke (with 35 colour and 25 monochrome plates), Heretic Books, 2003.
  • David Wainwright & Catherine Dinn, Henry Scott Tuke 1858-1929: Under Canvas (Sarema Press, 1991).
  • Catherine Wallace Catching the Light: The Art and Life of Henry Scott Tuke 1858-1929, Atelier Books (2008) ISBN 1873830203
  • Catherine Wallace Henry Scott Tuke Paintings from Cornwall, Halsgrove (2008) ISBN 1841147052 (This features paintings in the collection of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society.

External links

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