(n/a) Henry Scott Tuke RA, RWS (British, 1858-1929)
Study for 'August Blue' signed and dated 'H.S.TUKE '1911' (lower right) watercolour 16.5 x 23.5cm (6 1/2 x 9 1/4in).
Provenance: Anonymous sale: Phillips London, 2 November, 1999, lot 5; with David Messum Fine Art, Cork St Private Collection, U.K.
Exhibited: David Messum, British Impressionism, Winter, 1999.
This study is called August Blue as it resembles the major oil of that name Tuke painted in 1893 and exhibited in 1894 (R210). The large oil painting (121.9 x 192.9cm) was hailed as his greatest success to date and was bought for the nation by the Chantrey bequest and is part of the Tate Gallerys collection. It featured a nude model leaning on the stern of a rowing boat with a clothed figure leaning on the oars looking at a boy in the water and a nude balancing on the edge of the front of the boat holding out a towel. The title comes from Swinburnes poem Sundew Thou wast not worth green midsummer, Nor fit to live to August Blue, My Sundew not remembering her. It was painted in Falmouth harbour in the summer of 1893 a year after Tuke had made an extensive trip to the Mediterranean. The mystery concerning this watercolour is the date of 1911. This would suggest Tuke painted it 17 years after he painted the oil. There are subtle differences between the watercolour and the oil painting, which if it were painted after he had done the oil, would be clearly obvious when comparing the two works. The most obvious difference in the watercolour is the absence of the standing male nude figure on the front end of the boat which appears in the oil painting. There is also a very subtle difference in the way the boy is leaning on the oars in the watercolour and Tuke shows his forearm and hand here which is covered by the swimming boys head in the oil. There is also no evidence of the oarsmans legs in the watercolour, where as in the oil Tuke paints in his bare legs. These differences are indicative of Tukes practice in his figure painting, especially on boats, to tip up the perspective in the interior of the boat so that there is a higher viewing point than would be in reality. The other differences include the much smaller range of shipping in the background in the watercolour where as in the final work the horizon is filled with wooden barques at anchor which appear as a set piece to demonstrate Tukes love and skill at painting tall ships. All of these differences point to a likely conclusion, that despite the date on this painting of 1911, that it was in fact painted c. 1893 as a study for the oil painting. Tuke often used watercolours painted from life, en plein air as preliminary ideas for major paintings. This watercolour has a naturalism which is heightened and made more classical in the final painting. Although famous for the fact he would take his large canvases such as August Blue outdoors to paint as well, the spontaneity and freshness of his oils and watercolour sketches was often lost in the set pieces for the Royal Academy due to their demands for a higher finish. The most likely reason why Tuke dated this watercolour 1911 is that it was his normal practice to date paintings when he came to exhibit them, which was not necessarily the year he painted them. This is an extreme example of the time difference between execution and exhibition. The important similarity between this watercolour and the oil painting is the age of the models that feature in both pictures and they look the same age in both works. The models Tuke used for August Blue were Tonkin, Creba, Georgy Rowling, Freddy Hall, Hamley and Ruffy Harris.
We would like to thank Catherine Wallace for her kind assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.