Back of a boy bather inscribed by artist and dated 'To C. B. G./from H. S. T. Dec 1890' (lower right) oil on canvas board 25 x 18cm (9 13/16 x 7 1/16in).
PROVENANCE: with The Fine Art Society Ltd., London, 1971 Private collection, UK
This very sensitive portrayal of a young shirtless boy sitting by the water's edge is a relatively early figure painting by Tuke who was to make the study of youth and the nude outdoors his main oeuvre as an artist for the next 38 years. The painting, although unfinished, demonstrates the delicate, soft handling of oils that Tuke achieved in order to capture the subtleties of tender flesh and form in the boy's head, back and arms.
Tuke began painting the nude outdoors as a professional artist in 1886, when he had just moved to Falmouth in Cornwall. He originally used a model from London, Walter Shilling, for his early nudes but this appears to be one of the local Cornish boys who lived in Falmouth. It has a resemblance to the head of the main standing figure in his first painting where he used only local models called Bathers 188889 (R114) which is in Leeds City Art Gallery's collection (illustrated on p.51 Catching the Light by Catherine Wallace). The main models for this painting were Albert Pidwell (18771936) and Willy or Bill Rolling, born c.1868, the brother of Tuke's most frequently used model at this time, Jack Rolling, born c.1870. Albert Pidwell would have been 13 years old in 1890 which looks like the age of this model. Will Rolling would have been 20. It could be, therefore that the model in this painting is Albert Pidwell.
Probably painted in one of the summers between 1888 and 1890, this work was a Christmas present to the artist Caroline Burland Gotch in the December of 1890. Caroline Burland Gotch née Yates (18541945) was a friend and fellow student of art with Tuke at the Slade when he studied there between 1875 -1879. She married his other close friend from Slade student days Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931) in 1881 and they lived in Newlyn at this time.
The Gotches, as well as being great friends with Tuke, were also close to another Falmouth based painter William Ayerst Ingram (18551913) and according to Pam Lomax, the Gotches spent the Christmas of 1890 in Falmouth at the same lodgings as William Ayerst Ingram1, hence Tuke could have presented the painting to Caroline whilst she was staying in Falmouth with her husband and only child Phyllis.
1 Pam Lomax, The Golden Dream, A biography of Thomas Cooper Gotch, Bristol, 2004, p.95
We are grateful to Catherine Wallace for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.