In the canon of twentieth century art, the name of Horace Tuck barely registers, even in his native county. On the basis of this book, because I was unaware of him myself before this, that’s a shame. There are many other better-known names whose work isn’t half as good.
At first sight, Tuck’s work is fairly stark and can also appear quite naïve. Are we, perhaps, in the presence of one of those untrained “natural” painters such as Alfred Wallis that the art world occasionally takes up and lionises? In a word, no, we’re not. There is evidence that Tuck painted with Alfred Munnings and he also taught at Norwich School of Art between 1920 and 1930. I think we can fairly say that he knew his stuff and that all his stylistic traits are entirely deliberate. What you get is a fascinating melange of the Norwich School, the Victorian style and the beginnings of the twentieth century. Tuck’s strongly-branched, bare, trees have an expressionist quality that was coming to the fore in the 1920’s in both painting and literature. Some of his brushwork has the small-stroke work that appears in Victorian painting and his colours have the muted quality that characterises much of the Norwich School. His overall style, in his landscapes, is quite loose and follows on the artistic freedom that was the legacy of the Impressionists. It’s to his occasional portraits and figures that we have to turn for confirmation of the depth of his skill. Although themselves not detailed, they show a deep understanding of form and colour that capture the essence of the subject with a minimum of working and this extends to the figures that appear in his landscapes which, although almost incidental and certainly not the subject in themselves, have a clearly defined place and role in the whole work. They have, quite literally on many occasions, a job to do.
I can’t say that this is a book that today’s painter can necessarily learn anything practical from, although looking at other artists’ work should always inform one’s own approach and methods. However, it’s a worthwhile look at what is, perhaps undeservedly, a bit of a backwater in the history of art and an intriguing footnote to the story of the Norwich School. In that respect, it is also a timely reminder that artistic styles don’t have firm boundaries as one school ends and another begins but are rather an organic, constantly developing process which blends gradually, absorbing both history and outside influences.
First published 2006