Henry Scott Tuke

August Blue

1893–4

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1219 x 1829 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1894
Reference
N01613

Display caption

Tuke studied the tradition of the nude in Italy, but interpreted it with a modern impressionist style and everyday subjects. He moved to Cornwall and helped found the Newlyn School. This is one of many pictures Tuke painted of boys bathing around Falmouth Harbour; an activity that was common at this time. Tuke idealises the scene, however, with the poetic title (from Algernon Swinburne’s poem ‘The Sundew’ 1866), reflecting the beautiful colour that dominates the composition.

Gallery label, February 2016

Technique and condition

The painting has been executed in oil (untested) on canvas using Tuke's characteristic technique. The canvas has a thin and quite porous white or cream priming, applied commercially, which Tuke used as his ground, unmodified by further layers.

His first applications of paint are thin, dry and matt in appearance, closely following the canvas texture. The medium of this first layer of paint may have been partially absorbed by the ground. Further paint layers are more 'fat', forming a glossy and slick surface in areas of the sea and the boy's bodies, worked wet in wet. Drying cracks have opened up in this layer in places which lead onto the lower paint layer; for example in the standing boy's flesh and the green shadow under the boat. Tuke made use of rose madder pigment for the boy's complexions and for rosy highlights on the ships on the horizon. These areas fluoresce an orange colour under ultraviolet light. The bow wave below the left most ship fluoresces a green colour, possibly indicating the presence of zinc white which fluoresces a yellow colour and/or cobalt blue which fluoresces with a greenish tone. Areas such as the ships exhibit low but spiky impasto where Tuke has added highlights and details.

The painting is in generally good condition. There are some small paint losses and areas of raised craquelure which have been consolidated with wax/resin adhesive in the past but appear stable at present. An unusual grey staining has affected the lower left corner in the form of splash marks and the top right corner in the form of a large grey patch. The staining does not appear to be the result of something affecting the paint surface. It is more likely to be a transparency problem caused by a contaminant, perhaps mould, deeper in the paint structure. When one considers that Tuke painted his canvases 'en plein air' aboard boats afloat on the sea this is perhaps less surprising. A discoloured varnish was removed during the current treatment and structural weakness of the stretcher was corrected. The frame, which was in very poor condition, is being restored.

Helen Brett

April 2000

Catalogue entry

N01613 AUGUST BLUE 1893–4

Inscr. ‘H. S. Tuke 1894’ b.l.
Canvas, 48×72 (122×183).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1894.
Exh: R.A., 1894 (307); R.A., Late Members, winter 1933 (273).
Lit: C. Kains-Jackson in Magazine of Art, 1902, pp.342–3, repr. p.339; Sainsbury, 1933 pp.111–12.
Repr: Royal Academy Pictures, 1894, p.59; Sir Edward J. Poynter, The National Gallery, III, 1900, p.280.

Begun in Falmouth Harbour during the summer of 1893. The title is a quotation from Algernon Swinburne's ‘The Sundew’, the last verse of which runs:

The hard sun, as thy petals knew,
Coloured the heavy moss-water;
Thou wert not worth green midsummer
Nor fit to live to August blue,
O Sundew, not remembering her.

The Sundew is a marsh plant, described by the poet as ‘yellow green, and pricked at lip with tender red’.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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