Oil painting of men at a river
Henry Scott Tuke (1858–1929), "Ruby, Gold & Malachite," 1902, oil on canvas, 46 x 62 1/2 in., Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

Henry Scott Tuke
Watts Gallery
Compton, Surrey, England
wattsgallery.org.uk and yalebooks.yale.edu
Through September 12, 2021

Recently opened at the Watts Gallery is a rare exhibition highlighting Henry Scott Tuke (1858–1929). Famous in Victorian and Edwardian Britain for depicting young men bathing on sunny shores, he learned to paint outdoors while traveling in Italy and France after study in London. Like many contemporaries, Tuke was drawn to the Newlyn colony in Cornwall, where he recorded the seafaring life endured by local residents. An avid sailor, he eventually moved 30 miles away to the village of Falmouth, where he converted a 60-foot brigantine into a floating studio.

Tuke arrived at a unique fusion of plein air painting, vivid coloring, and almost Impressionistic handling, focusing on vaguely homoerotic scenes of un-selfconscious young men swimming and messing around on boats. The resulting pictures capture the chromatic effects of sunlight on skin and won applause at London’s Royal Academy; several works were acquired for Britain’s national collection.

Today these images evoke complex interpretations ranging from pastoral to erotic. These ideas are explored in the show’s 160-page catalogue, which features essays by six scholars, including Watts Gallery chief curator Cicely Robinson. On offer this season are talks, discussions, and workshops in drawing and painting the figure en plein air.

Watts Gallery — Artists’ Village is the perfect place to organize this project. The site was established in 1890 — when Tuke’s career was flourishing — by the even more famous painter George Frederic Watts and his wife, Mary. The Tuke show will move on to Cornwall’s Falmouth Art Gallery, which Tuke co-founded and which holds a major collection of his art.

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