Boyhood: Re-examining an Edwardian Obsession Conference

While the boy, as precursor to the man, has always held a certain degree of cultural capital in western history, this reached a particular zenith at the turn of the twentieth century. Edwardian Britain obsessed over the potential and perils of boyhood and youth with extraordinary intensity.

To coincide with its summer exhibition, Henry Scott Tuke (7 June–12 September 2021), Watts Gallery – Artists' Village held an interdisciplinary virtual event on Thursday, 8 July, supported by a Paul Mellon Centre Event Support Grant, which looked to re-examine the Edwardian obsession with boyhood through the lens of the twenty-first century.

Chaired by Professor Michael Hatt and Nicholas Tromans, this event aimed to contextualise the art of Henry Scott Tuke (1858–1929), an artist best-known today – as in his own lifetime – for his depiction of boys and male youths. Generally depicted boating, bathing or lounging naked on Cornish beaches, Tuke’s ephebic youths speak to an apparent golden age fictionalised in the visual and literary culture of the day. Papers considered how both artists and writers used the young male figure (especially the exposed male body) as an evocation of health, beauty, classical perfection, power, morality, potential or erotic desire in Edwardian Britain. The conference closed with a keynote by Professor Joseph Bristow (UCLA).

Image: Henry Scott Tuke, Our Jack, Henry Scott Tuke, 1886. Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society Tuke Collection

Conference programme Download