Published 16th January 2015
On a recent visit to Falmouth, my mind was brought back to the images I had seen of old photographs and paintings of the great trading ships that used to anchor off Falmouth to take-on or off-load their cargos. This international trade continued to the turn of the last century and one Newlyn School artist, Henry Scott Tuke became captivated by the glorious sight they presented.
A sailor himself, he took full advantage of the view from his cliff top cottage to watch and sketch the arrivals and departures of these great sailing vessels. The finished works resulting from these sketches have become a highly collected sector of the artist’s oeuvre.
Henry Scott Tuke was born in York in 1858, and came to live in Falmouth in 1860. His childhood memories of Cornwall undoubtedly shaped his decision 23 years later to return to live in the county, firstly in Newlyn and then in Falmouth, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Tuke entered the Slade School of Art in 1875 and two years later won a Slade scholarship, enabling him to continue his studies and travel to Europe. In 1880, Tuke travelled to Italy and then based himself in Paris from 1881 to 1883. Here he met Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose plein-air realist technique was adopted by Tuke in his own mature work.
At the instigation of his friends Thomas and Caroline Gotch, with whom he studied at the Slade School, Tuke visited Newlyn in 1879. He returned in 1883 and declared the town 'simply reeking with subjects'. He settled in Newlyn, becoming a founder-member of the Newlyn School and producing superb 'square brush' paintings of the life of the Cornish fishing community.
A passionate sailor, he eventually chose to settle in Falmouth, moving to a cottage at Pennance Point in 1885 and keeping this as his base for the next 40 years. He continued to visit Newlyn frequently, maintaining his friendships with various members of the art colony there.
In 1886, Tuke bought an old French brigantine called the 'Julie of Nantes', which became his floating studio. He frequently painted other craft in the water, using his intimate knowledge of rigging and seamanship to excellent effect.
Tuke was a founder-member of the New English Art Club in 1886 and in 1900 he was elected an ARA, gaining full Royal Academician status in 1914.
The present work, Off Falmouth, A Barque at Anchor with a Tug in Attendance (FS25/364), which is offered in the picture auction on Tuesday, 27th January 2015 as part of the January 2015 Fine Art Sale was painted in 1901 and may well have been conceived and sketched from the 'Julie of Nantes' and worked up at Tuke's studio cottage at Pennance Point as he looked out over the sea at Falmouth. It was last on the market in the early 1980s when it was bought by the present owner. The oil on canvas measures 40 x 55cm and is estimated at £8,000-£12,000.