Stanhope Forbes, Penlee Cornwall Exhibition

Stanhope Forbes, Penlee Cornwall

A thoroughly enjoyable visit to the fantastic current exhibition at Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance, Cornwall gave me an opportunity to study and ponder on the works of one of Cornwall’s greatest late 19/early 20th Century artists. Stanhope Forbes, Penlee Cornwall

Stanhope Forbes (1857 – 1947) accredited as being the ‘father’ of the Newlyn School of Art from around 1880s to the 20th Century.

Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Stanhope Forbes Self Portrait 1890

Henry Scott Tuke, Elizabeth Forbes, Charles Napier, Walter Langley, Frank Bramley and Alfred Munnings were amongst the artists enjoying working in Newlyn at this time.

Stanhope Forbes, Penlee Cornwall

To try and understand Forbes’ works I concentrated my study on 4 of his earlier works:

Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach 1885. Plymouth City Council
Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Chadding in Mount’s Bay 1902 . Worcester City Art Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
The Seine Boat. 1904 Private Collection
Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Gala Day at Newlyn. 1907. Hartlepool Culture and Information Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These works seemed to me to typify Forbes fulfilling the period’s expectation of typical Cornish scenes and leading to him becoming a popular exhibitor at the Royal Academy (he became an Associate in 1892).

Stanhope Forbes, Penlee Cornwall

I noted that Forbes’ broad and rapid brush strokes brilliantly captured the particular light of Cornwall (he was one of the first to paint en plein-aire), stories for us to interpret of movement and the joy of the moment, through to the social-realism of the harsh life of the fishing and country folk.

It is evident that we have structure here of the confident ‘la belle epoch‘ era: secure verticals and horizontals, pre-occupation of the moment in time, even plentiful harvests from the sea with the avoidance of distressing realities such as …

Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Among The Missing. Walter Langley

Over time, many artists change their styles, they start or follow movements, they influence or are influenced to make changes in their approach. They mature, even recede.

My interpretation of Forbes

Setting the scene

. the Chadding crew, the young people in Gala – I couldn’t help thinking – what fate awaited them in 1914?

. Elizabeth Forbes, Stanhope’s wife, died from cancer in 1912.

. his son Alec was killed at The Somme in 1916.

Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Portrait of Alec Forbes in Uniform. 1916. Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, Bodmin

Am I misplaced in pondering that from his post WW1 work we do indeed see a distinct change in his style? Whilst we have sunshine and optimism in his ‘On Paul Hill’ (1922)…

Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
On Paul Hill. 1922. Penlee House and Museum

I nevertheless noted the faces. Gone are the close portraits, replaced by almost anonymous, generic features. We have a detachment, an avoidance of intimacy, a distance.

In his later works this is even more evident. We almost have, (dare I say?) kitsch images of idealistic scenes.

Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Market Place DETAIL. 1922. Private Collection
Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
A Terminus in The West. DETAIL. 1925. National Railway Museum, York
Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
On The Bridge 1925 DETAIL. Harris Museum & Art Gallery
Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
The Pond 1925 DETAIL. Newport Museum and Art Gallery
Stanhope Forbes Penlee Cornwall
Relebbus Bridge. 1930. Penless House and Museum

All full of life, vitality and colour with strong structures but the detail has gone. The personal closeness compared to his earlier works, is kept very much at bay.

Over the Cornish Peninsula a new movement was forming, the St. Ives School, English Modernism, Abstraction, reflecting the changing times and approaches to art. Ben Nicolson and Christopher Wood, through to Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gobo, Patrick Heron and Terry Frost.

Stanhope Forbes, Penlee Cornwall

Stanhope Forbes and his Newlyn contemporaries remaining firmly in the Victorian and Edwardian canon.