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Recollections of Henry Scott Tuke

Tom White

Tom White lived in Falmouth 1909-1919 and, as a teenager, modelled for Tuke between 1915-1918.


I was born in Newport, Gwent on 11th March 1901. My father developed ill health and our family moved to Falmouth in 1909, first to 8 Erisey Terrace, then two years later to 6 Erisey terrace. At 7 Erisey Terrace lived Webber, a shop assistant in Grose's men's outfitters in the town, who probably knew Tuke through the business.

The small snapshot in the Tuke Collection shows three of us sitting on the bank, probably at Sunny Cove on a day when we were swimming. We used to swim at Sunny Cove early on Sunday mornings. Webber is in the photograph, also George Elliott who was my age and at school with me. I used to 'fight his battles' at school. He became a Church of England minister later. I don't think Tuke took the photograph, as I don't ever remember Tuke using a camera. He must have been given the photo by someone else. Very few people used bathing costumes in those days, we always swam naked at Sunny Cove, which was well away from the town.

Before I left school, the then Postmaster of Falmouth, R.W.Rivers, came to my school early in 1915 and appealed for lads to join as messengers to replace men who had been called up. This appealed to me, and I had a special concession to leave for the job before my fourteenth birthday. I started at the Post Office as a messenger on 1st March. The Post Office then was next to the Polytechnic, with its back yard in what is now New Street, but then was Porhan Street. Mr Rivers was also a choir master, and played a little American organ at the tin church which I attended, on the Moor next to Jacob's Ladder across from the Wesleyan Chapel.

Rivers took a personal interest in me and used to let me go to his house in the evenings to learn morse code, with practice on a wooden key he himself made. He would be doing his office work at the same time, but always noticed when I faltered. I remember W.J. Martin, who had modelled much earlier for Tuke, as a senior sorter in the Post Office at Falmouth. He had a bad eye.

Tuke saw me bathing at Sunny Cove early on Sunday mornings, probably in 1914, and he asked Webber formally would I pose for him. Webber took me out to Tuke's studio, and I was introduced to him. I did not pose for Tuke until I had left school. Thereafter I posed for four summers, 1915-1918, and appeared in many of Tuke's bathing pictures. Tuke paid me 2/6d per session; possibly I was paid as much as 1 for 4 sittings, each sitting about an hour, but 3 or 4 hours if one counted getting there and waiting for the tide or sun to be right. I earned altogether about 80 which I used for buying furniture when I got married later in London. My father died in 1917, when I was sixteen.

Tuke never painted me in the studio, but always out-of-doors, usually on the beach, and always nude. My attitude to the whole thing was rather naive; I took it very light-heartedly but Tuke didn't hold it against me, and we were more like friends than master and man. I went or I didn't as the whim took me. He would say sometimes "the tide is wrong" or "the light isn't right" in a cross way, then we would natter in the studio and he might put on a Caruso or a Tetrazzini record. He was nuts on her "Le Echo" I think was his favourite record [Louisa Tetrazzini born 1871, was an opera singer who made her debut at Covent Garden in 1907]. He might be touching up paintings nd discussing techniques: the importance of clouds, sky, light being correct. My skin colour was important as Tu did not want sunburn, and I could not sunbathe in off times.
I don't remember Tuke painting from photographs. I thought that being a model was not quite the thing, and asked Tuke not to paint the likeness of my face in a painting. Tuke accepted my wishes, and was a perfect 

Often ideas for pictures came by chance. "Summer Dreams" (top photo) happened one day, when posing at Newporth beach. I had probably been on night duty, and was tired. Tuke said to me "Do you think you could get in that position again? You were sound asleep!" and Summer Dreams was born. The picture was in his studio between exhibitions, and travelled all over the world. He was loath to part with it, and never did.
Usually we walked to Newporth beach for posing, but sometimes we went in the pram dinghy. H.S.T. himself would attend to the boat, which was pulled up just above high tide mark, below the house, and do all the rowing and carrying if we went by boat, whereas I used to go along more or less as a guest. Tuke used to carry the easel and canvas, being afraid of me mishandling them. Usually we went about 10am, and for a long time I walked both ways from home and back, but later Tuke gave me an old bicycle to use, which enabled me to get quickly to and from home (he himself always cycled in and out of Falmouth town). He would take an easel, oil paints in a box and canvas on a stretcher, involving some difficulty on the steep grass slope near the beach. I never saw anyone else modelling, I was always solo. Often when we had got to Newporth the sun or the tide was wrong, and we used to laze around, or bathe. Tuke got ideas for poses from these times. We were fond of diving in the deep gully at the southern end of the beach.

It was probably in the summer of 1917 that a party of Tuke's friends came to stay at Budock vicarage for a month, from London. They used to picnic on Newporth beach, to Tuke's annoyance. He used to curse them because they took up his painting time and brought huge hampers of grub. It didn't please H.S.T. at all.
During the war, shortage of food at Falmouth never entered our heads, there being such a lot of country around with home-reared and home-grown food. Pendennis Castle and the docks were restricted areas, but the beaches were not restricted at all. Of course, I was around everywhere all the time as a telegraph messenger (I don't remember ever delivering a telegram to Tuke). There was a protective boom across the harbour mouth from St. Anthony Head to the Manacles, and when there was a scare in the Channel, ships would anchor in the bay through an entrance at the Manacles. That was the only way in or out for merchant ships, but the Navy had a secret opening at St. Anthony. A tanker which had dropped only one anchor on a calm day, dragged it when a strong wind got up in the night, and she went aground on the rocks between Gyllyngvase and Swanpool where the rough seas broke her back. She burned for three days, blackening the hotels and boarding houses in the vicinity. H.S.T. did a small picture of the wreck flames, but kept it under cover because that was against regulations.

I remember Tuke painting a picture of me standing towelling my back (picture above) and I think a friend of Tuke's, a Colonel from London, saw it in the making in the studio and bought it, I fancy for 50. This must be R912, bought by Colonel Lomer]. I gave Tuke one more sitting in 1919 after I had worked in London for a time, in order to finish it.

I left Falmouth for London on 1st January 1919, and didn't have a holiday from my new job for twelve months. I went to work for the Commercial Cable Co. and stayed with them all my working life. I met my future wife in September 1919 at her brother's wedding. His best man was in the same lodgings as I was, and my future wife was a bridesmaid. We were engaged on my 21st birthday, 11th March 1922, when I was on holiday from Ireland, where I went to work for my firm 1921-23. We were married in 1924.

Tuke tried to persuade me to stay in Falmouth and be a regular model for him, but I wasn't interested! I once met him by appointment to visit Burlington House where there was a picture of me on show [Under the Western Sun]. We stood well back from it, and he told me to get among the crowd admiring it and listen to the comments.















Tuke's studio was built of wood boards, with a big light in the roof. It was not dusty, and was fairly dry. It was stacked with paintings in disarray against each other, and he would grumble if anyone tried to tidy up. The cricketing had finished before 1914, but a concrete batting pitch was still there behind the studio, and he used to tell me of the famous who had been along there, "W.G." and Ranji. He had a bat autographed by them. He had a telescope for watching the shipping, and had a knowledge of the flags used for signalling. When I had Spanish 'flu in 1918 Tuke visited me at home and brought me some eggs and other things. Once I had dinner by candlelight with him, just the two of us in the room of his cottage on the left of the front door.

He would often tell me where he would be going that evening to dine, to the Bulls or Foxes etc., and would ask me to go in with losses or gains when he played bridge. Of course I was not used to gambling and always refrained. Next day he would say "pity you weren't in, as I won so-and-so" but then he would give me 5/- as he had had a good night! Sometimes in the evenings he would go to one of the clubs, Athenaeum or Falmouth Gentlemen's Club, and play poker. Mostly he would win. He would ask me beforehand, would I like to wager 1/- if he lost against 1/- for 1 he won. I never did, but he would often hand over two or three bob next time we met!  You must remember I was a mere lad of fifteen or so, and was not much interested in the people I used to meet there. But he was a great guy!



From BD Price's 'Tuke Reminiscences' (1983). Photos are from the Tate collection.