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Stanhope Alexander Forbes 1857 – 1947

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Stanhope Alexander Forbes

Fair Measures: a shop in Quimperlé

Oil on canvas 39 ½ x 31 ½ inches. Signed by the artist
Inscribed Quimperlé and dated 1883
Provenance: Collection of R. A. Foster, 46 Hans Mansions, London, who may have purchased the painting at the Royal Academy in 1884;
Purchased by Mr. Birdle at the Foster dispersal sale, Christies, London, 20th December, 1935, lot 37;
Purchased on the London art market prior to 1939 by Mr. Bernard Smart, East Dereham, Norfolk;
by descent to his son, Mr. Richard Smart circa 1980;
sold on his behalf by Hamptons, Essex, April 1992
Exhibited: Royal Academy, London, 1884, No. 726;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 1992;
‘Onlookers in France’, Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork, 1993;
Peintres Anglais en Bretagne, Musée de Pont-Aven, June 2004
Literature: Art Journal, 1892, p.68, illustrated;
C. Lewis Hind, Art Journal, 1911, Christmas issue, p.31, illustrated;
Caroline Fox and Francis Greenacre, 'Artists of the Newlyn School', Newlyn Orion Galleries, 1979;
Campbell, 'The Irish Impressionists', National Gallery of Ireland, 1984, pp. 59 & 125;
Caroline Fox, 'Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School', David & Charles, Newton Abbot
Reference:Forbes correspondence, Tate Gallery Archives, London

Stanhope Forbes was born in Dublin in 1857. His father was manager of the Midland Great Western Railway. His mother, Juliette de Guise, was French. An uncle, James Staats Forbes, built a well known collection of contemporary paintings.

Forbes began his formal art studies in London at the Lambeth School of Art followed by a period at the Royal Academy Schools. Here he renewed his friendship with Henry La Thangue with whom he was to paint later on in Brittany. They first met at Dulwich College where they learnt to draw under the guidance of John Sparks. After his first year of study, Forbes returned to his home in Ireland and took an extended vacation painting the landscape around Galway. He travelled to Paris in 1880 and studied under Bonnat at his atelier in Clichy.

Having become familiar with the plein air paintings of Bastien-Lepage he decided to go to Brittany in 1881, staying at Cancale where he painted A Street in Brittany. This painting met with considerable success when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1882. The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, purchased it in the same year. It gave Forbes great encouragement and he described the success of the painting as a turning point in his career. He returned to Brittany in 1883 staying this time at Quimperlé. He visited Pont-Aven in October and met many fellow artists there although he showed a distinct preference for the less crowded location of Quimperlé.

During his time in Brittany it seems likely that he would have made contact with Nathaniel Hill, Walter Osborne, Norman Garstin, Joseph Malachy Kavanagh, and a number of other Irish artists painting there at the time. In 1884 at the Royal Hibernian Academy, he showed a painting entitled Breton Children in an Orchard - Quimperlé, a title with obvious similarities to Walter Osborne's Apple Gathering, Quimperlé, Brittany, shown at the same exhibition.

In November 1883 he returned to England and exhibited some of his Breton paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Royal Academy in London. In January 1884 he went to Cornwall and became one of the central figures of the Newlyn School. Due to his many successes at the Royal Academy the school at Newlyn was to become firmly established.

It was in Newlyn he met Elizabeth Armstrong, a young artist whom he married in 1889. Their style and subjects were very similar. Norman Garstin in his article on Stanhope Forbes in The Studio, 1901, stated, "he is penetrated with the actuality of life, he sees no visions, and he dreams no dreams; but on the other hand he sees with extraordinary clearness and simplicity, and renders with extraordinary clearness what he sees". Also, to quote Norman Garstin, "he is a good unsentimental painter, his work has a sense of sincerity that appeals to everyone".

In 1886 Forbes became a founding member of the New English Art Club. Together with Elizabeth, he founded the Newlyn School of Art in 1899. He became a Royal Academician in 1910 and continued to paint with distinction for the remainder of his ninety years.

In comparison to his contemporaries, his Breton career was not only short but also concentrated. The paintings from this period can be counted on one hand. His two main paintings from 1883, Preparations for the Market, Quimperlé and Fair Measures: a shop in Quimperlé were both exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. Both were rather similar in subject matter and treatment. Forbes, in a letter to his mother, was concerned that one at least should be regarded as being too blue. An Art Journal critic who noted that Preparations for the Market was too blue and shadowless to be really true to nature noticed this point. Preparations for the Market is now in the Dunedin Art Gallery, New Zealand. It is illustrated in 'Victorian Social Conscience', an exhibition held in New South Wales in 1976.

Forbes himself was more pleased with Fair Measures. He refers to the picture originally as 'The Vegetable Shop' in a letter and remarks that it was his best. After a private view held at his house in London in October 1883, he wrote that "the picture is pronounced unique" and "the general verdict is satisfactory".

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Stanhope Alexander Forbes

After a Days Work
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1907
Provenance: Paul Brothers;
Morrab Studios and Art Gallery, Penzance;
Sisters of Mercy Convent, Swanage, Penzance;
Lawrence, Somerset;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art;
Private collection, Ireland

This evocative study shows Forbes at the height of his powers. It encapsulates for posterity a snapshot of Cornish village life at the opening of the 20th century. Covered for protection from the rain by a cape or blanket, the central figure leads his tired horse along the village street at the end of a day’s work. It may be that he is being put out to graze for the night or is going to the blacksmith for a new shoe. He is followed closely behind by a companion who drives a horse and cart.

After a days work at school, a young child is about to cross the roadway. She stops suddenly and is allowed by her patient mother to watch the horses as they pass by. She wears the same colourful uniform as the school children in one of Forbes’ great pieces, Gala Day at Newlyn, painted in the same year of 1907. Almost hidden in a doorway across the cobbled pavement, another couple find shelter from the elements. The grey, stone buildings are relieved by the radiant light as it glows from a lantern inside the window. With superb skill, the soft light is reflected off the rain-soaked road.
We are reminded of Norman Garstin’s famous painting The Rain it Raineth Every Day.

 Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Stanhope Alexander Forbes  

The Lantern

Oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1897

Label verso in the artist’s hand with title and address at Trewasveneth, Newlyn

With this sort of weather it was not always possible to paint outdoors. It became common practice for Forbes to work on interior and exterior scenes simultaneously. Forbes turned this situation to his advantage and became a highly skilled master of interiors, usually portraying busy groups in much the same way as his beach and harbour paintings. Many of these indoor scenes are noteworthy for the charm and warmth created by the lighting effects of a flickering flame, a device mastered by Forbes. The Lantern, is a fine early example of this approach to painting.

On occasions, this soft light was combined with a subdued natural light from a window. A good example of this technique is his well known painting, The Village Philharmonic, where he uses backlight from a window while the subject groups are lit with the soft glow of lamplight to highlight the features of the main characters. In another of his best known works, Forging the Anchor, the same technique is employed, but this time the light source is from the furnace flame with a secondary source coming from the red hot metal. A similar approach is employed to illuminate the family gathered round a doorway in The Letter, painted in 1898. Forbes’ paintings of this period invariably include village children and it may be that the same small girl who appears to the forefront in The Letter may have been used as a model for our painting one year earlier.

 Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Stanhope Alexander Forbes 

Boy on a Beach
Oil on panel, 9½ x 6¼ inches
Inscribed top right, John Lock
Sketch for The Slip, verso
Provenance: Frank Bodilly, thence by descent
Exhibited: Newlyn School, Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance, 1979

This sketch dates from Forbes’ early days in Newlyn. It relates in many ways to the numerous studies he painted for his masterpiece A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach. However, the boy does not appear in the finished painting. A clue to its date may be the sketch on the reverse for The Slip, painted around 1884. There is a barely legible inscription at the top right of the panel which appears to read as John Lock. He is dressed in the typical fisher boy clothing of the period and is possibly the same boy who appears in Off to the Fishing Grounds, painted in 1886. In this work, he waves from the side of the boat and wears identical clothing.

A Fish Sale
was a mammoth undertaking which consumed Forbes’ attention for the best part of a year. From the outset he was aware of the difficulties he would face. In his correspondence he writes: “Anything more beautiful than this beach at low water I never saw and if I can only paint figures against such a background as this shining mirror-like shore makes, the result should be effective.” This study shows the reflection of the boy on water which is frothy and foaming rather than mirror-like. However, it may be that this panel is as early as February 1884 and may have been one of the first studies he made after he had conceived the plot for his masterpiece.


A Dutch Canal
Oil on panel, 8 x 11 ½ inches. Signed by the artist
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 2003

In his article on Stanhope Forbes in ‘The Studio’ of 1901, Norman Garstin wrote: "he is penetrated with the actuality of life, he sees no visions and he dreams no dreams: but on the other hand he sees with extraordinary clearness and simplicity and renders with extraordinary clearness what he sees; he is a good unsentimental painter, his work has a sense of sincerity that appeals to everyone close".

It would be difficult to find better words to describe this view of a Dutch waterway, the impact of which stems from its pure simplicity. The painting is very much an exercise of light on water but great interest is added by the groups of figures as they stroll along the canal. In the distance, a lugger heads for the open sea, the sails filled with the same breeze which turns the windmills and cools the cattle as they lie amongst the grasses. Painted in 1895, the waterway is reminiscent of that painted by Walter Osborne on his visits to Zaandam, a picturesque area northwest of Amsterdam, which was a popular painting ground for many artists of the late 19th century. Osborne was a frequent visitor at this time and it is very likely that their paths would have crossed on these excursions.

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Stanhope Alexander Forbes 

Higher Faughan
Oil on panel 12 ½ x 9 ¼ inches. Signed by the artist

This is just where one might expect to find an artist hidden away and lost in his work. Forbes moved to this house overlooking the bay in 1904. The painting demonstrates Forbes’ ability to turn a simple sketch into a work which deserves close study. The rich, luminous blues of the sea are highlighted by the starkness of the monotone foreground that almost disappears into the slip as it sweeps down from the house. Well protected from the winter gales by a mature windbreak, the trees are reflected with great subtlety in the water’s edge. The higher ground behind extends the monotone and demonstrates what can be achieved with a limited palette. Without interfering with the perspective, he skilfully adds interest through the iron handrail, similar to that found around the harbour. The house may have been built by a fisherman but one can imagine Forbes launching a small boat from the slip as he sets out for a days sketching along the coast.

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Stanhope Alexander Forbes 

Landscape with Blue Hills
Oil on canvas laid on board, 12 x 16 inches. Signed by the artist and dated 1913
Label verso, Vicars Brothers Ltd., 12 Old Bond St.
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dec. 1999

With a complete change in style, this fluently painted landscape, with a winding waterway and blue hills to the background, has the appearance of a West of Ireland scene, although it is very unlikely to have been painted there. It is an unusual work for Forbes who was producing mainly interiors, harbours and village scenes around this time. The broad handling and colour range relate to paintings such as The Drinking Place of 1900 and Going to School, Paul, painted in 1917.

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