Tuke and the Slade School of Fine Art

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Posted 29th July 2021

In 1875 Tuke enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in Bloomsbury, London. Founded just four years earlier, the Slade challenged established models of art training in Britain. While other art schools prioritised the study of the Antique, the Slade declared that ‘the study of the life model’ was of ‘the first and paramount importance’.

Inspired by the French atelier system, students of all stages of development worked alongside each other in the life room. Sir Edward Poynter (the first Slade Professor of Fine Art) believed that the ‘constant study from the life model’ was the ‘only means’ that students had ‘of arriving at a comprehension of the beauty in nature’. In his inaugural lecture of 1871, Poynter criticised the ‘instruction in vogue’ in British art schools ‘of a lengthened course of study from the antique’. He argued that forcing students to first study motionless Antique casts ‘renders the student helpless when he comes to work from the living model, who can never remain quite still, or take twice running precisely the same position’.  

In the Slade’s life class, male students had access to both nude and draped models, who would pose for up to four hours a day. Students had to gain approval for their drawings of the life model before they could progress to also working in paint. Although this study (Figure 1) is not dated, it was likely created during Tuke’s time at the Slade. The twisted position of the seated figure is characteristic of a life model’s pose.  

Figure 2

Taking a closer look, particularly at details including the figures elbow and kneecap (Figure 2), you can see how the young artist has used his brushwork and tonal gradation to represent the varying forms of flesh, muscle and bone. Hints of red and pink pigments give the impression of blood rising to the surface of the skin, perhaps as the model strains to hold his pose. Later in his career, Tuke would use an increasingly chromatic and palette to capture variations in flesh tones, even at times using green, lilac and ochre to convey the effects of sunlight on skin (Figure 4 and 5).  

Figure 4 & 5

Records held at the University College London (UCL) library and archives enable us to trace Tuke’s time and development at the Slade. The UCL Calendars record that Tuke’s fellow students included Thomas Cooper Gotch, William Strang and Caroline Yates. They suggest that the young artist may have even crossed paths with Evelyn Pickering (later De Morgan), with both artists winning awards in 1875: Pickering for Painting from LifeDrawing from Life and Composition and Tuke, a certificate for Fine-Art Anatomy. The registers also record the attendance of W S Tuke, Tuke’s brother William, who was studying medicine at UCL in the hope of following in his father’s footsteps. 

It is William who features in this rare example of Tuke’s early attempts at etching (Figure 5). In 1876, French artist Alphonse Legros replaced Poytner as Slade Professor of Fine Art. Legros established a Saturday etching class, which Tuke attended. As this Legros-inspired depiction of his brother demonstrates, Tuke displayed significant talent. In 1879, the young artist won first prize in Etching but, despite his evident skill, he would never return to printmaking after his student days.  

Figure 6 

During his time at the Slade, Tuke won numerous prizes and certificates. In 1877, he was also awarded the prestigious Slade Scholarship, which provided recipients with £50 per annum for three years. As our current exhibition explores, the principles of drawing, observation and anatomy that Tuke learnt during his time at the Slade would underpin his approach to painting the nude throughout the rest of his career.  

Written by Cicely Robinson, Brice Chief Curator


Fig. 2, Detail of knee and elbow from Seated Nude Study, Henry Scott Tuke, Undated, oil on canvas, Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society Tuke Collection_ FAMAG RCPS2015.8.253 

Fig. 4 & 5, Detail from A Bathing Group, Henry Scott Tuke, 1914, oil on canvas. Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer: J. Hammond.

Fig. 6, Henry Scott Tuke, William Tuke, 1878, etching, Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society Tuke Collection