Henry Scott Tuke, RA, RWS (British, 1858-1929) A woodland bather 152 x 84 cm. (59 3/4 x 33 in.)
Lot 121
Henry Scott Tuke, RA, RWS
(British, 1858-1929)
A woodland bather 152 x 84 cm. (59 3/4 x 33 in.)
Sold for £ 96,000 (US$ 126,480) inc. premium

Lot Details
Henry Scott Tuke, RA, RWS (British, 1858-1929) A woodland bather 152 x 84 cm. (59 3/4 x 33 in.)
Henry Scott Tuke, RA, RWS (British, 1858-1929)
A woodland bather
signed 'H.S.TUKE' (lower left)
oil on canvas
152 x 84 cm. (59 3/4 x 33 in.)


  • Provenance:
    Private collection, Sweden.

    Royal Academy, 1893, no.117;
    Manchester, 1893 (location unknown);
    Munich, sold for £80 in Germany to Muller at the Kunsthalle, Hamburg.

    We are extremely grateful to Catherine Wallace, author of the forthcoming book 'Catching the Light: The paintings of Henry Scott Tuke' (to be published in 2008), who has prepared the following essay:

    The present painting was of great significance to Tuke's career as a figure painter and was the first time his studies of the male nude were taken seriously by the London critics. By 1893, when this painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, Tuke had already had one painting All Hands to the Pumps! 1888-9, (Tate Gallery) bought by the Chantrey Bequest for the nation and was an established artist.

    Painted over three years, 1891 – 93, A Woodland Bather shows the influence of a trip to the Mediterranean in the summer of 1892. It was on his return from this trip that Tuke, according to his sister Maria, came back to Falmouth and “ the very next day resumed work on his evening picture shown at the R.A. of ’93, ‘A Woodland Bather’.” 1

    Tuke set off for the Mediterranean in February 1892 for 5 months. He was accompanied as far as Monte Carlo by an old Slade School friend, Sir Walter Dalrymple, where Dalrymple’s mother, The Lady Dowager, had a villa. Tuke then went on to Venice via Genoa with another friend Horatio Brown. He then travelled to Corfu where he met Arthur Tanner and Tom Mostyn and stayed with them. It was here Tuke saw again the golden light of the Mediterranean, (he had studied painting in Italy in 1880/81) but this time the influence of that special light took hold in his work. His two paintings from this trip were shown at the New Gallery in 1893 - The Lemon Gatherer and A Corfu garden (Bradford City Art Gallery). These were favourably received, unlike his earlier picture of bathing nudes which was slated by the critics when it was exhibited at the RA in 1890. This was possibly due to that fact that when Tuke had presented his first painting -simply called The Bathers, depicting nude boys on a boat in Falmouth-to the New English Arts Club in 1889, it became the subject of some controversy 2. This is just one of the reasons why Tuke went back to disguising his nudes painted out doors as mythological scenes, such as Perseus and Andromeda. It was also seen as the accepted form of depicting the nude by the Royal Academy. However, Tuke must have been discouraged by the negative criticism this painting received.

    He was encouraged to go back to just painting the nude outdoors by sympathetic friends such as John Addington Symonds who had got to know Tuke through Horatio Brown. He wrote to Tuke in January 1893 suggesting Tuke started to paint the nude outdoors without mythological disguises.

    “ If I were to give you any advice – I should say you ought to develop your studies in the nude without pretending to make them “ subject pictures”. Unless you are inflamed with the mythus, the poetical motive, I do not think you will bring your mastery to bear upon the work in hand if it be mythological.” MTS p.107.

    Tuke was a keen student of classical sculpture, in particular the male athlete, and on his recent trip to Italy he made a pilgrimage to see the sculptures in the Vatican in Rome. He was particularly taken with the sculpture of ‘Apoxyomenos’. This influence shows itself in the strong sculptural sense of form in the particular pose he has chosen for the model in this painting and in his rather elongated proportions.

    A Woodland Bather can therefore be seen as the fruition of Tuke’s Mediterranean experiences; he translates the quality of light there to that seen in Cornwall, he captures the flora and fauna of the landscape with a fresh eye for detail, and most importantly of all, begins painting the male nude once more in a natural way. This painting was, according to Tuke’s Register, undertaken with the model William Martin standing on the edge of the beach at Newporth with the back of Swanpool, Falmouth as the background. Tuke was a follower of the French ‘plein air’ school of painting and he is quoted in an article in the Studio, April 1895 as saying “My studio is ‘out of doors.’” In fact, there is a photograph of the artist at work in the outdoors reproduced in this article, as if to prove the point 3. The photograph shows Tuke standing with the present painting on his easel on the rocks at Newporth beach, Falmouth, with the model in the background. The article goes on to quote Tuke as saying, “ I paint all of my pictures in the open air. Of course at times I repaint portions of them here [in the studio], because that harmony that looks right beside the sunlit model may look different when inspected critically in the studio the next day; but the pictures themselves are practically begun and finished in the open.”

    When the work went on show at the Royal Academy in the Summer of 1893, the London critics were on the whole favourable, but they were still puzzled at his use of a male nude.

    “ Why Mr. S (sic) H. Tuke when he draws a bather should choose a boy, I can’t say. The boy bathers Battersea-way never struck me as picturesque….” (The Daily Star)

    However, the more discerning critic saw that Tuke had moved on to a higher level of painting.

    “Coming to Mr. Tuke, we deal with an already well-recognised painter, whose “Woodland Bather” (No.117) – a naked youth, striding through a coppice lit by the tempered sunshine – is an admirable example of tenderness and technical refinement in the painting of the nude; Mr. Tuke’s older characteristics of directness and vigour being merged to-day, in the higher grace of subtlety.” (The Artist)

    Although he initially paid for models-both male and female- to come down from London, it was too expensive and too awkward, especially having single females in his house. Using local Falmouth lads who worked at the Falmouth Docks was a lot easier and less complicated. Tuke asked them to pose for him, usually asking permission first from their parents, and he always paid them a fee.

    The model in this painting was actually the local postman, William John Martin (b.1870). Tuke got to know him as he delivered the post to Penance Cottage on the headland just outside the town of Falmouth near Swanpool where Tuke lived. Martin had previously featured as a postman in a major interior harking back to Tuke’s Newlyn School days called The Message, 1890, Falmouth Art Gallery.

    1 Maria Tuke Sainsbury, Henry Scott Tuke A Memoir,” p 104.
    2 Unfortunately, Martin Colnaghi, who had promised to mount the first exhibition of the New English Arts Club, withdrew his support after seeing Tuke’s The Bathers.
    3 This photograph also appears in the Windsor magazine, 1895 p.6111 in an article by Flora Klickmann’ The Life Story of a Famous painter. An interview with Mr. H.S.Tuke’

Saleroom notices

  • This painting was presented to The New English Arts Club in 1885 rather than in 1889 as stated. It was also described as an 'admirable example of tenderness' in The Standard rather than The Artist as stated.
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