Henry Tuke RA, (1858-1929), July Sun , oil on canvas, 1913
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

Object of the Month - July 2016

  

Henry Tuke RA (1858-1929), July Sun, oil on canvas, 1913


Henry Tuke's painting is characterised by an intense study of what he described as 'the play of outdoor light and sunshine on the human form'. Newporth Beach in the Cornish town of Falmouth, where he was raised, became his 'outdoor studio', providing the perfect environment and atmospheric conditions for exploring the effects of light on water and skin in natural settings. His oil sketches of the male nude outdoors, of which July Sun is an example, show this to best effect, and established his reputation, leading to his election as a Royal Academician.

Tuke initially studied at the Slade School of Art and then studied in Florence from 1880-81. It was here that he developed his painting in the style for which he would become the most well-known. He met the plein-air English painter Arthur Lemon, who was to prove a very influential and formative figure on his career. Lemon introduced Tuke to the ideas of the Impressionists, encouraging him to paint the scene as it was observed. They spent a month together at Pietra Santa, painting nude boys on the beach who sat for them for two pence at a time.

Tuke studied in Paris from 1881-83 and the work of Alexander Harrison, who experimented with placing nude figures in rural settings, was also a great influence: Tuke described his 'new interest to the study of the undraped figure, to depict it with the pure daylight upon it, instead of the artificial lighting of the studio'.

In 1883 he moved back to Newlyn in Cornwall and two years later moved to Falmouth, where he eventually built a studio at Pennance. Tuke stayed here for the next forty years, painting plein-air figure studies featuring the local boys and fishermen as his models.

Tuke was appointed as a visiting tutor to the Royal Academy School in January 1913, for which he taught for one month of the year and set up the pose of the model. He used his own figure studies as examples for the students and it is probable that he was encouraged to donate July Sun by Benwell Clark, the Curator of the Academy's day school.
The model for the painting was an Italian named Nicola Lucciani, a professional model living in London. Tuke noted of the painting that it was completed 'practically in one sitting', giving a sense of the spontaneity and confidence Tuke had attained in painting the male nude in oil. In this work, Tuke uses broad brushstrokes to mimic the effect of sunlight bathing the shoulders, and Lucciani's skin appears to gleam in contrast with the shadowed rocks which form the backdrop.