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