01 March 2016

Stanhope Forbes: from Newlyn (in Cornwall) to Geelong (in Australia)

I have lectured on Edwardian art history in the past and knew the artists very well. Before the start of this new academic year, I went to have a look at the Edwardians again and focused on my old paintings. Two weeks later, out of the blue, the Weekend Australian promoted Stanhope Forbes’ The Pier Head (1910), now on display at the Geelong Gallery in Victoria. Small world!

Who was Dublin-born Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857–1947) and why did his painting end up in a regional gallery in Australia? The family moved to London where young Stanhope studied at the Dulwich College and then Lambeth School of Art. Finally he became a student at the Royal Academy School in 1876 where his mentors were Leighton and Alma-Tadema. Forbes was one, very fortunate lad!

After spending a few years in France, Forbes returned to London and showed works he made in Brittany at the 1883 Royal Academy and Royal Hibernian Academy shows. My interest in Forbes was piqued in 1884 when he moved to Cornwall, part of the growing colony of artists in beaut­iful, sunny Newlyn, a fishing village. But I must admit that at least one influence from France remained – Cornwall had the same quality of light he had enjoyed so much in France.

Timing was also important. Newlyn’s Old Harbour was extended between 1884-94 with the construction of two piers enclosing forty acres of water. South Pier was created in 1887 and North Pier one year later. The local council believed the harbour was, from then on, one of the safest harbours built in SW Britain, one which could be accessed at any tide.

Stanhope Forbes,
Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, 1885
119  x  154 cm
Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery

His painting A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach 1885 showed an auction of fish landed from rowing boats on the beach near Newlyn; the viewer can see the sales being handled by an auctioneer. The painting depict­ed fishing people in traditional working outfits - the men in rough jumpers, oilskin trousers, and heavy leather boots. The women wear heavy aprons and woollen shawls, capable of doing a proper day’s work. The workers looked rugged and wind burned, not at all romant­ic­ised. If there was any sense of the romantic, it was the Newlyn fleet of fishing boats which could be seen in the back­ground, anchored in the harbour.

Fish Sale was soon exhibited to popular and critical acclaim at the Royal Academy summer exhibition. The success of the painting encouraged other artists to join Forbes in Newlyn, leading to the establishment of the Newlyn School of Art which Forbes and his wife founded in 1899.

The Weekend Australian noted that because Forbes generally painted en plein air, and because Newlyn had better weather than the rest of Britain, the new art school started attracting students who were already committed to painting en plein air. Cornwall’s longer hours of sunlight were wonderful for late afternoon paintings and noone else captured the setting sun as well as Stanhope Forbes.

Stanhope Forbes, 1907
Gala Day at Newlyn
Hartlepool Museums

Stanhope Forbes, 1910
The Pier Head
124 x 150 cm
Geelong Gallery

There was abundant subject matter along the harbour and in the village - people, the fishing industry, coastal geography, pubs and piers. But risks too. In the years before WW1, he had set up his easel on the Newlyn pier when a strong wind blew his painting into the sea. A local fisherman rescued it. The canvas, The Pier Head 1910, was eventually finished and was purchased soon after in London by the connoisseur and patron Mrs OF Armytage. She bought it on behalf of Victoria’s Geelong Gallery, making it one of the earliest works acquired by the gallery.

Christie’s noted two factors that suggest Forbes was insisting on the old world character of his corner of England. Firstly like many Edwardian painters, Forbes found the colours of evening gentle. This was not new. Close of day themes had been loved in late 19th century European art. Secondly motor transportation and farm machinery were being gradually introduced in the Edwardian decade, but Forbes resolutely turned his back on these emblems of modernity. As ever, Forbes was living and working amongst ordinary people, depicting them as honest, old fashioned and free from big-city pretensions.

The book Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School was written by Caroline Fox (David & Charles Pub) in 1997. I loked this book because it focused on the Newlyn School's founder and mentor, Stanhope Forbes. But it also went into some detail about my other favourite Newlyn artists, Dame Laura Knight, Alfred Munnings and Walter Langley.

Walter Langley
Between The Tides, 1901
40cm x 60cm
Warrington Museum & Art Gallery

Who influenced whom at Newlyn? Birmingham man Walter Langley (1852-1922) became a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists in 1881 and made money via local patronage. I am not sure why he decided on Newlyn but clearly he was one of the first artists to paint the fishing community there, a couple of years before Stanhope Forbes and many years before Harold and Laura Knight arrived. Langley said about himself that he was “the first figure painter to depict incidents in the life of the fisherfolk”.

Perhaps Langley is less famous now because so many of his works in the early years (1880s and 1890s) were large, painted in watercolours, and focused on hard labour and difficult lives. Between The Tides 1901, on the other hand, was later, smaller, painted in oils, and showed happier lives.

Harold Harvey (1874–1941) was a Cornish lad who went to study art at the Academie Julian in Paris. When he married, he and his wife moved to Newlyn and both joined the Newlyn School of Art. A friend of Laura Knight and Harold Knight, Stanhope Forbes and Ernest Procter, Harvey specialised in painting Cornish fishermen, farmers and miners.

Harold Harvey
The Blacksmith's Shop, 1906
31 x 41 cm
Lords Wood, Marlow Bucks

Of all the paintings Harvey painted in and near Newlyn, examine The Blacksmith's Shop by the Old Bridge, 1906. Note the industry of the young workers and the interest of the passers by, the strong sunlight and the stone bridge. But also note that Stanhope Forbes had painted the same bridge and forge just a few years earlier.


Ryder Bracker said...

Thanks for sharing the great information. It is well written!!

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Dina said...

I love "Gala Day at Newlyn" (1907) by Stanhope Forbes. It is a big painting that shows children marching in a holiday procession. But I would not have found it, had it not been on the front cover of Caroline Fox's book.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, That is a great story about the Pier Head painting falling into the water. No wonder Forbes' harbor scenes have that ring of authenticity. What I don't get is the connection with Australia--who was Mrs. Armytage, and is there any special reason this painting was selected?

Hels said...

Ryder Bracker

my pleasure. Are you a fan of the Newlyn School in general? Or one of the individual artists?

Hels said...


Many thanks. I mentioned the Fox book in the post, but I should have included the front cover. Gala Day is a perfect evocation of Edwardian life in Cornwall.

Hels said...


the Armytage family has long been associated with cultural patronage and philanthropy, owning land in the Geelong region of Victoria since the 19th century. And I am sure they used to visit home (Britain) as often as possible, in those days.

Opened to the public in 1896, the Geelong Gallery would have been very keen to acquire works of national significance [eg Eugène von Guérard’s View of Geelong 1856 and Frederick McCubbin’s A bush burial 1890]. But I wonder who made the decision to get the Stanhope Forbes - the gallery or the donor?

Student of History said...

I love Edwardian art, especially paintings that involve the beach or ladies in soft white tea dresses. But how leisured was Newlyn really? It is said that Walter Langley's own working-class background enabled him to identify with the villagers and the hardships, dangers and unstable income that they suffered. A tough life.

Student of History said...

Further to my point above. Compare the Newlyn artists with George Washington Lambert. Although they were painted at the same time (1905-10) and in the same country (Britain), they could not be more different. Lambert's models are richer, more leisured, better dressed, bolder in colour and more definitively Edwardian. "Between The Tides", "The Pier Head" and "Gala Day at Newlyn" are not posed, paler, working people in their daily clothes.


Hels said...


My guess is that living in these fishing communities was both healthy and dangerous. Yes the sun shine was blissful and the sea was great for swimming and fishing, but life must have been so difficult. Imagine the tragedies that happened in the community's life, as reflected in Langley's painting title: For Men Must Work and Women Must Weep (1883). Young wives scanning the horizon, waiting for the boats to bring their husbands' bodies home for burial. No income on stormy days when the boats didn't go out at all.

Hels said...


George Washington Lambert's paintings centred on very middle class people in very fashionable clothes, yes! The Edwardian years were good for many people, especially for those with enough income each week to celebrate their leisure time activities. The Stanhope Forbes and Walter Langley paintings, on the other hand, celebrate constant work.

columnist said...

I noticed a Stanhope Forbes picture for sale at an upcoming auction the other day, so it is interesting and apposite to read your post. He certainly has talent, although he tends towards the rather "syrupy" Victorian style, which is not one I particularly favour personally.

Hels said...


I know exactly what you mean about Victorian values which look way too sentimental for our taste. But I think the idea of big city artists moving out to a far flung fishing village in Newlyn was a brave one. They wanted to enjoy the casual beach life and sunshine, of course, but they also wanted to capture late Victorian work and life before it disappeared for ever. Talented? yes! And also historically important.

Hels said...

I have added a Newlyn painting by Harold Harvey to the post. Newlyn fans might like to examine The Blacksmith's Shop (1906) at Messum's.

Parnassus said...

The horse and driver on the sloping road is a brilliant touch to tie together the elements in the painting by Harold Harvey. --Jim

Hels said...


Harold Harvey was educated at the best art schools as opposed to some of his colleagues who were largely self-taught. Nonetheless, Harvey's version of the Blacksmith's Shop is more interesting than Forbes' version of the same place, despite Forbes having a wonderful art education. I also enjoyed Harvey's painting called Unloading The Boats, Newlyn Harbour.

dish-mop-top said...

Thanks for your wonderful writing about 'A fish sale on a Cornish beach'. That is my Great Grandmother posing on the boat, Eliza Web. She was paid sixpence a day to pose.

Hels said...


you realise from the post that I love the Newlyn School in general and Stanhope Forbes in particular. 'A fish sale on a Cornish beach' was a wonderful painting to select, indicating all the values that the artist emphasised back in 1885 - the special light, Cornish harbour and beach, hard working women, fishing industry, local working clothes etc. Your great grandmother was an integral part of that image.

Hels said...

There is exhibition of Stanhope Forbes now on at Penlee Gallery in Penzance; it includes almost all of his best paintings. For a review of the exhibition and some great photos, see

Culture and Anarchy

Unknown said...

The lighthouse by Forbes features two fisherman on there way from Newlyn Harbour. One is my GG Grandfather Henry Kitchen. He was a favourite of Forbes and featured in a number of paintings. He also meet the Prince of Wales due to his redesign of Trammel nets. Queen Victoria was also present.

Hels said...


Stanhope Forbes was a wonderful artist and Newlyn Harbour was the perfect site for his oeuvre. But you have a very special, familial connection. Does your family own any of Forbes' works?

Unknown said...

My grandmother was Annie Eliza Warren, the girl leaning against the boat in 'Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach'.
Her father had died by this time snd they were poor. No social security then. She went on to marry a miner
named Jack Webb and my mother, the second of 4 girls, was born in 1899 in Camborne. Jack Webb went
To Africa to the mines there and died. My g/mother brought up the 4 girls alone and in grinding poverty.
Stone houses then had no heating, no lighting except candles and they lived in 2 rooms. I am always grateful for the life I have in Australia.

Hels said...


I imagine that working families really struggled, as we can tell from the average life expectancy back then. Two main things worked in Newlyn's favour: a] working outside on the coast was much healthier than slaving down a coal mine or inside a terrible factory and b] Newlyn’s Old Harbour was extended between 1884-94 when two new piers were built, making the area more productive.

The girl leaning against the boat in Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, Ms Warren, looked dressed for serious work!

Unknown said...
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