British painter Henry Scott Tuke is a well known artist in Cornwall whose work can often be seen hanging in Cornwall’s galleries and Museums. But an aspect of Tuke’s work that is often neglected from interpretation is the queer coding through his artwork and the subsequent importance of Tuke’s art to the LGBTQ community.
Alongside seascapes and maritime work as part of the Newlyn Art Group, Tuke also painted intimate and sensual male nudes. Debates have long reigned over Tuke’s sexuality but his own sexuality should not be used as a fait accompli to deciding if his work is ‘queer’ but rather we should focus on what the work means to its queer audience.
During the era of the late 1800s to 1900s, queer coding in artwork was often used as a means of communication between gay men. While same-sex desire was still a criminal offense, the Ancient Greek culture that Tuke and other Uranians idolised gave them an opportunity to explore, portray, and legitimise homosexual desire without social repercussions or persecution. Tuke’s male nudes are very sensual in nature; the models rarely touch and often face away from the viewer ass if Tuke is inviting the viewer to step into the gay gaze and appreciate the male form, almost as a voyeur.
This queer coding has been viewed within Tuke’s work by decades of people throughout the LGBTQ community. Tuke’s work was an important feature in the 1970s queer liberation movement and the re-shaping in how we understand Victorian homosexual desire.
Tuke’s work can be found in many galleries around Cornwall. Falmouth Art Gallery holds the Henry Scott Tuke Collection.