Henry Scott Tuke and Newlyn

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Posted 12th August 2021

Like many artists of his generation, Tuke set his sights on coastal Cornwall. In 1883, he initially settled in Newlyn, where an emerging artists’ colony was beginning to take shape.

Tuke found this small fishing village to be ‘simply reeking with subjects’. Mackerel fishing was the main source of employment, with the majority of people working for the Mount’s Bay Fishery or curing the fish ashore.

Inspired by the sombre-coloured Naturalism that was taking hold in Newlyn at the time, Tuke preferred to depict real people rather than professional models. Local boy Ambrose Rouffignac is the sitter in this sombre-coloured interior, titled Dinner-Time or Ambrose in the Loft (Fig. 1). The boy’s bright young features stand out against the weathered sailing gear. In this otherwise subdued scene, the inclusion of the red handkerchief signals Tuke’s developing interest in colour.

Fig 1. Dinner-Time (also known as Ambrose in the Loft), 1883

Tuke chose to exhibit this work at the Nineteenth Century Art Society, a new exhibiting institution set up to promote the work of rising artists. Critics praised the ‘broad firm brush’, the ‘low-toned colour’ and the ‘attractive sailor boy’. While Tuke would later become best-known for his nude bathing scenes, it was with these sombre-coloured scenes of everyday Cornish life that he first began to build his artistic reputation.

Tuke sought to do more than just observe his fisherfolk subjects. The artist immersed himself in his new surroundings, taking lodgings with a local fisherman, Philip Harvey and his family. He looked for opportunities to gain real sea experience and even went deep sea fishing with his Newlyn-landlord. He also borrowed boats from Harvey, which he used both as props and as platforms for painting. Below, Tuke can be seen lounging over the front of a small fishing boat named the Ripple (Fig. 2).


Fig 2. Henry Scott Tuke and Philip Harvey on the Ripple, c.1883-4

It was from the Ripple - described as a ‘sturdy craft of satisfying dimensions’ - that Tuke painted Summer-Time in 1885.  The work is now lost but a photo pasted into Tuke’s Register of Paintings (now held at the Tate archive) provides a record of the picture. As the painting is now untraced an art critic’s praise for Tuke’s ‘vivid scheme of blue sea, sky, and boat’ is all that remains to suggest that Tuke was moving towards a bright sun-filled palette. Depicting two local Newlyn-based boys John Ruffignac Cotton and John Wesley Kitching, with the latter stripped to the waist, this composition was described as Tuke’s ‘first open-air nude’. Summer-Time was also his last exhibition picture to be painted in Newlyn.

In 1885, the artist moved 30 miles to the east, settling in a secluded cliff-top cottage on the outskirts of Falmouth. Throughout the rest of his career, he would find the nearby beaches and rocky coves to be ideal locations in which to paint. As Tuke later proclaimed, ‘Newporth Beach is the principal seat of operations, it is a truly enchanted spot’. 

Written by Cicely Robinson, Brice Chief Curator

Images:

Photographer unknown, Newlyn Artists at their Easels, 1884-5, photograph. Penlee House Art Gallery & Museum, Penzance, Cornwall/Newlyn Artists Album.

Dinner-Time (also known as Ambrose in the Loft), 1883, oil on canvas. Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance. Purchased in 2012 with funding from The Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Fund and The Friends of Penlee House.

Photographer unknown, Henry Scott Tuke (left) with Philip Harvey on ‘The Cliff’, Newlyn c. 1883-4, photograph. Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance, Cornwall/Newlyn Artists Album

Photographer unknown, Henry Scott Tuke and Philip Harvey on the Ripple, c. 1883-4, photograph (reproduction). Penlee House Art Gallery & Museum, Penzance, Cornwall/Newlyn Artists Album.

Summer-Time(now untraced), reproduced in Henry Scott Tuke, Register of Paintings, (1879 – 1923), page 32, TGA 9019/1/2/1. Photo ©Tate.

Photographer unknown, Henry Scott Tuke painting on Newporth beach, c.1917, photograph. © Tate, London (2017)