Stanhope Forbes: Father of the Newlyn School
Stanhope Forbes (1857 – 1947) was one of the ‘greats’ of the Newlyn School artists’ colony which flourished in the southernmost tip of Cornwall from the 1880s onwards. A new exhibition at Penlee House Gallery & Museum in Penzance, Stanhope Forbes: Father of the Newlyn School, brings together over seventy works painted by Forbes during the course of his long career. Many of the pictures in the exhibition have been sourced from private collections and are rarely seen. Others have been borrowed from national and regional museums, making this exhibition the most comprehensive survey of Forbes’s work for many years.
Born in Dublin, Forbes trained at the Royal Academy Schools in London and finished his studies at Bonnat’s studio in Paris. After arriving in Newlyn in 1884 aged just 26, his national reputation was established a year later with the acceptance of his masterpiece, Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach at the Royal Academy. This painting, one of the star exhibits of this exhibition, established Newlyn’s reputation as the British centre of a new wave of modern, European painting.
Penlee Director Louise Connell comments, “Although by no means the first artist to set up in Newlyn, Forbes’s arrival galvanised the emerging art community and helped to build its national and international reputation. For this reason, he is often dubbed the ‘Father of the Newlyn School’, which reflects both his significance and his popularity. Comprising a stunning selection of key works from all periods of Forbes’s career, this exhibition celebrates his consummate skill and variety as an artist.”
The Newlyn School artists broke with convention by painting their models outdoors in ordinary, working clothes. They set up their easels wherever the desire took them, painting their subjects ‘en plein air’ (in the open air) rather than in stuffy studios. They achieved startlingly realistic effects using the new ‘square brush’ technique, building up form with dabs of paint in the manner of the French ‘Social Realist’ artists that they admired and emulated.
Over the years, Forbes’s painting style developed away from the formalism of the square brush of the 1880s towards a more fluid and spontaneous way of painting. He delighted in the use of colour, capturing the essence of life in West Cornwall, painting gatherings of ordinary people against a backdrop of the sea or reflected in the ripples of the village pond.
Forbes remained in Newlyn throughout his long life, championing the town as a centre of artistic excellence and endeavour. He was one of the founders of the Newlyn Art Gallery in 1895 and, in 1899, sensing that the colony was losing momentum following the departure of many of its artists, he established the Forbes School of Painting and Drawing, along with his wife and fellow artist, Elizabeth. The school became a magnet for a new generation of artists, ensuring that Newlyn was a hub and destination for artists well into the 20th century.
One of the stars of the show will be Forbes’s 1897 painting Christmas Eve, which depicts the Salvation Army band playing outside the Dock Inn in Penzance. This large work, owned by Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, has not been on public display since before Forbes’s death in 1947, having been damaged during the Second World War. Penlee House and Royal Pavilion & Museums have worked together to fund the conservation of this painting especially for this exhibition, where it will be displayed for the first time in over 70 years.
Stanhope Forbes: Father of the Newlyn School opens at Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance on Saturday 10 June and runs until 9 September 2017. The exhibition is sponsored by Sotheby’s and Crown Fine Art and is accompanied by a fully illustrated book written by Elizabeth Knowles and published by Sansom & Company, Bristol.