OIL PAINTING: August Blue, 1893
Tuke's August Blue was much admired when shown at the 1894 Royal Academy exhibition, and it was acquired for the nation by the Chantrey Trustees for 525 pounds. His dramatic maritime scene All Hands to the Pumps had been a Chantrey purchase in 1889, and to have a second picture bought was a rare honour. The perceived suitability of August Blue for the national collection demonstrates how more readily acceptable the nude had become by this date, especially when athletic, masculine bodies were presented in scenes of healthy outdoor pleasure. Its lack of criticism can also be accounted for by the lower degrees of nudity and homoeroticism found in August Blue than in many of Tuke's paintings. The background was painted in situ in Falmouth Harbour, but it seems likely the figures were posed on the shore or in the studio. For all Tuke's considerable maritime knowledge, it is likely the boat would have capsized if the figure standing in the bow had done so while it was in water. It is easy to underestimate the radicalism of Tuke's plein airiste, naturalist approach to the nude, and his desire to capture the mood evoked by sun, sea, sand and flesh. He was a founder member of the New English Art Club in 1886, and although associated by geography with the more conservative Newlyn clique centered around Stanhope Forbes, he was greatly respected by the more avant-garde Impressionist faction which included Sickert and Steer. In reviews of his pictures, Sickert praised their colouring, and Tuke has used brilliant pigments to suggest the depth of the sea's colour and brilliance of the sun.