Henry Tuke RA, A Bathing Group, 1914. Photo RA/John Hammond © Royal Academy of Arts, London

Object of the Month - May 2017


Henry Tuke RA (1858-1929), A Bathing Group, 1914

Tuke was raised in Cornwall and initially studied at the Slade School of Art and then in Florence from 1880-81. It was here that he developed his painting style for which he would become known: spontaneous oil studies made outdoors. He met the plein-air English painter Arthur Lemon, who was to prove a very influential and formative figure for 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 in Tuscany, Italy, painting nude boys on the beach who sat for them for two pence at a time.

Tuke then studied in Paris from 1881-83 and the work of Alexander Harrison, who experimented with placing nude figures in rural settings, was a great influence. Tuke described his 'interest in 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 Cornwall, and eventually built a studio at Pennance where he stayed for forty years. Newporth Beach became his 'outdoor studio', providing the perfect environment and atmospheric conditions for exploring the effects of light on water and skin in natural settings. When he painted A Bathing Group, Tuke's style had become broader so the scene is painted with great expressiveness demonstrating the influence of the French Impressionists.

When Tuke moved to Cornwall he soon befriended local boys and fishermen who became his models. However, A Bathing Group shows the professional Italian model Nicola Lucciani, who came from London to pose for Tuke, as the standing figure. Although this is a domestic scene he stands in a classical pose, like a Greek god. Sadly, this idyllic scene was subsequently tinged with sadness as Lucciani was killed in World War I a few years later.

Tuke was appointed as a visiting tutor to the Royal Academy Schools in January 1913, where he taught for one month of the year and set up the pose of the model. He submitted A Bathing Group as his Diploma Work when he was elected a Royal Academician in 1914.

Henry Tuke RA's A Bathing Group and July Sun, 1917 are on display at Tate Britain in Queer British Art 1861-1967 until 1 October 2017.