THE Friends of the York Art Gallery are arranging a series of monthly talks about particularly interesting pictures and objects in the gallery's collections.

The next talk, on Henry Scott Tuke's portrait The Misses Santley, will be given by Professor Elizabeth Prettejohn, from the University of York, on Wednesday, December 12 from 12.30pm to 1pm in the Burton Gallery.

Henry Scott Tuke was born in York in 1858 to a well-known Quaker family. His father, Dr Daniel Hack Tuke, was consultant to the Friends Retreat, founded by his grandfather, which offered care to the mentally ill.

Henry trained as an artist, first at the Slade School, and then in Paris. Subsequently he had a highly successful career, becoming a Royal Academician in 1914.

He painted portaits and maritime scenes in the manner of the Newlyn School; but he is best known today, as in his own time, as a painter of nude or semi-nude boys bathing or in boats, usually in the sunshine.

Tate Britain has a fine example, August Blue (1893), purchased by the Chantrey Bequest, a fund for buying contemporary artworks for the National Collection administered by the Royal Academy.

The paintings were widely popular, but they also appealed to gay, or in the parlance of the day Uranian, communities with which Tuke had some association, although without any whiff of scandal or censure.

York Art Gallery unfortunately has only this single painting by Tuke, but it is a masterpiece, although Tuke was only 22 when he exhibited it at the Royal Academy. It shows the strong influence of Slade Professor Alphonse Legros: Legros encouraged study of the Old Masters, and this work owes a considerable debt to Venetian Renaissance painting.

Frederic Leighton, then president of the Royal Academy, is reported to have said: "Can it be an old master? It could not be by a young man."

It shows three women who all studied painting at the Slade with Tuke. On the right is Edith Santley - for whom Tuke had a tendresse - holding a score; the daughter of the famous baritone Charles Santley, she gave up her singing career when she married.

To her left is her sister Gertude, and in front Carrie Yates, who later married Thomas Gotch, a close painter-friend of Tuke’s. This triple portrait is masterly in colour and structure, and shows a strong affection for the sitters.