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More about The Tuke Collection, Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society

The Tuke Collection is comprised of a single collection of 277 works, of which 87 are in oil and are the property of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society (RCPS), Falmouth.

The RCPS was instituted as the ‘Cornwall Polytechnic Society or Institution for the encouragement of Arts and Industry’. As stated in the original prospectus from 14th December 1833, the principle aims of the society were to encourage the useful arts, to elicit the ingenuity and inventive powers of the young and to promote industrious habits among the working classes.’ The society was granted royal patronage by King William IV in 1835. Many changes have taken place within the society’s grade II* building over nearly two centuries and it has endeavoured to remain true to the early principles of its founders, the Quaker sisters Anna Maria and Caroline Fox. The involvement of Henry Scott Tuke, RA, RWS (1858–1929) spanned some 60 years with RCPS.

Tuke stands amongst the international giants of late Victorian art. He was part of the first generation of the Newlyn School, a British Impressionist and key figure in the very rich artistic heritage of Falmouth. Born in York on 12th June 1858, he was the son of a distinguished specialist in the treatment of mental health conditions, Dr Daniel Hack Tuke and his wife Esther Maria (née Stickney). The family were Quakers and moved to Falmouth two years later after Dr Tuke developed the symptoms of tuberculosis. Tuke’s sister Maria was born in Wood Lane in 1861. The artist’s childhood in Falmouth was to hold a sense of nostalgia throughout his life and the sun, sea and sand of his boyhood became an inspiration in many of his best paintings.

The Tuke family moved to Hanwell, London, in 1874 and Tuke’s studies began. He entered the Slade School of Fine Art on 25th January 1875, first studying under Edward J. Poynter and later the much respected artist Alphonse Legros. He gained a scholarship of £50 for three years which allowed him to travel and to paint on the continent. He visited the studio of Jules Bastien-Lepage and admired the freshness of his plein air painting.

On the 8th June 1885 Tuke returned to live in Falmouth renting two rooms at Pennance Cottage, situated between Pennance Point and Swanpool Beach and overlooking the sea near Sunny Cove and Newforth Beach. Tuke was a lifelong bachelor and the cottage remained his base until his death on 13th March 1929. He often worked aboard his floating studio, the ‘Julie of Nantes’, which he purchased in 1886.

Tuke first exhibited at the RCPS in 1867 at the age of nine, winning five shillings (25p) for drawing. In 1899 he was elected Vice President of the Society and in 1900 was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. On his return to Falmouth he saw the RCPS decorated with flags, bunting and daffodils; ‘Wicks band from Truro played during the banquet held in his honour.’ In 1904 he was elected Associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour, a full member in 1911, and a Royal Academician in 1914.

In 1889 All Hands to the Pumps was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest Fund for the Nation, and in 1894 August Blue was purchased by the same Fund. Both paintings are now housed at Tate Britain. Tuke’s sister, Maria Tuke Sainsbury (1861–1947), wrote in her biography of her brother, ‘even Harry must have been excited by the news, and no wonder, as it was then an almost unprecedented compliment for an artist to have two pictures bought by the Chantrey’. Tuke is now chiefly remembered for his wonderful portrayal of sunlight on both flesh and sea, but he was also an accomplished marine artist and portraitist and accepted commissions throughout his life.

The Tuke Collection was given to the RCPS in 1965 by Brian D. Price, who first became interested in Tuke in 1961 after finding a copy of Maria’s A Memoir (Martin Secker, London 1933) in a second-hand book shop in Colchester, which he bought for ten shillings and sixpence. Brian Price in the period 1946–1979 taught mathematics, and latterly also computing in secondary schools. In 1979 he became a research assistant at Imperial College in the department of Social and Economic Studies.

The range of work in the Tuke Collection is impressive, from modest sketches to Royal Academy exhibited works, and from his earliest recorded The Good Samaritan (exhibited RA, 1879) to a sketch for Aquamarine (Private Collection, exhibited RA, 1929 and 1933). Perhaps Falmouth’s most recognised Tuke work is Our Jack, done on the ‘Lilly’, Tuke’s quay punt, ‘begun April 28th 1886 … the first of many I painted of Jack Rowling’ (also spelt Rolling) and exhibited Liverpool, 1886. Jack is standing on the Lilly’s port-side with the familiar backdrop of one of Falmouth’s parish churches and rising terraces. ‘Given to T. C. and C. B. Gotch as a [late] wedding present’. Both Thomas Cooper Gotch and Caroline Burland Yates had been art students with Tuke and had married and settled in Newlyn. As with a number of works in the Tuke Collection, this was acquired from their granddaughter, Mrs D. McClellan.

Tuke remains popular with young and old alike, when children view Tuke’s works there are a number of firm favourites which include Whale Blowing (1910) and Boy Asleep in a Sou’wester (c.1882). Works from the Tuke Collection are much travelled and the society is proud of its loan and exhibition record since 1957. To date there have been 32 with other artists and 10 solo exhibitions.

Noonday Heatwas presented to the RCPS in 1965 by the collector John Alfred (Jack) Hone. It was painted on Newporth beach in the summer of 1902 from two of Tuke’s Falmouth models, Georgie Fouracre and Bert White, and exhibited at the RA and Liverpool in 1903. This work enjoyed much appreciation when exhibited in The Year 1900: Art at the Crossroads at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2000 and later the same year, at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

As well as our principal benefactor, Brian D. Price, 11 others have kindly donated 36 works (details of these donations can be found in the Further Information section at the back of this catalogue).

The society believes the Tuke Collection to be unique and will make these works available for exhibition at a local, national and international level.

John F. Tonkin, Trustee and Director of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, Vice-Chairman, The Tuke Committee

Text source: PCF / The Tuke Collection, Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society

This description was originally written for a catalogue.

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