Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes

Stanhope Forbes Self-portrait, 1890
Elizabeth Forbes Self-portrait, 1885
It's not often I find artists who are a married couple; and even less often are they more or less equally famous. That would be the case with Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope Forbes, except for the fact that Elizabeth Adela (Armstrong) Forbes, born in 1859, died of cancer in 1912 at the age of fifty-two while her husband, Stanhope Alexander Forbes, born in 1857, lived to be eighty-nine years old. Naturally, the longer you live, the more famous you're likely to be. Although their art bore only a passing resemblance as to style (somewhat Impressionist) there was a definite link in terms of content. They painted the people, places, and things of their era--portraits, landscapes, and genre. What was it like, living in turn-of-the-century England? Simply come to know the Forbes and their work to find out.
Boy with a Hoe (sometimes titled April), 1882, Elizabeth Adela Armstrong Forbes
Toddler with a Rattle, by Elizabeth
Forbes may be a portrait of her
son, Alec, born in 1893.
Ladies first--Elizabeth Adela Armstrong was Canadian born, the daughter of a government official. Sometime around 1870, the family decided their only daughter should have a proper British education so Elizabeth headed off to London (with her mother in tow as a chaperone) to study art. They returned to Canada in 1878 whereupon Elizabeth went off to New York to study at the Art Students League. Apparently dissatisfied with the life and times of a female art student in America, she (and her mother) headed back to Europe, first to Munich, then once more to England and the artists colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany. Around 1885, mother and daughter moved again, this time to Newlyn in Cornwall. It was there Elizabeth Armstrong met, and in 1889, married Stanhope Alexander Forbes. Boy with a Hoe (above) is from this period and is a personal favorite of mine. It was not uncommon during this time for female artists to limit their subjects to women and children.

A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, 1885, Stanhope Alexander Forbes
The Young Pianist, Stanhope Forbes
(his son?)
Stanhope Alexander Forbes was Irish, born in Dublin; his father a railway manager. As a young man he studied at the Royal Academy under Sir Frederic Leighton and Sir John Millais before moving on to Paris and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Upon returning to London in 1883, he exhibited there for a time before moving to Cornwall, the western-most county in England where he settled in the small town of Newlyn and began organizing the local artist community. An important part of that community was Elizabeth Adela Armstrong. Together they founded the New English Art Club in 1886. One of Forbes' first Newlyn paintings, A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach (above) was an immediate hit with the seafaring natives and brought him an associate membership in the Royal Academy. Its success allowed him to propose marriage in 1889. In 1893, a son, Alec was born. From all appearances, both proud parents were to use the boy as a model, judging by the number of blond-headed lads which later turned up in their works (above, right).

School is Out, 1889, Elizabeth Adela Forbes--her most popular painting.
Alec in Whites, 1906,
Elizabeth Adela Forbes
During the ensuing years as the couple began raising their son, painting, and exhibiting, they also began winning awards from as far away as Chicago, where Elizabeth earned a gold medal at the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1892 they started an art gallery in Newlyn catering to the developing tourist influx. And then, in 1899, they founded the Newlyn Art School where Elizabeth taught the women, her husband, the men. Together they began attracting students from all over England, Europe, and America. Though Forbes often started his paintings outside, they were usually finished in his studio. Nonetheless, the couple's paintings of Newlyn and neighboring Penzance began to draw other artists to the picturesque Cornish coast where easels began to sprout like saplings as plein-air painters were drawn to its rugged beauty.

The Munitions Girls, 1918, Stanhope Forbes. Wars have a way of changing things.
William Alexander Forbes, 1915,
Stanhope Forbes (their only son).
As affluence crept upon them, in 1905, the Forbes family moved to a custom designed and built estate near Penzance which they called Higher Faugan. Today, it has now become a small hotel. It would be comforting and pleasant to say the family lived there happily ever after. But such was not the case. Elizabeth Forbes succumbed to cancer in 1912. Then, just four years later, their son was one of the early WW I battlefield casualties. He was twenty-three. Stanhope Forbes lived on at Higher Faugan to continue painting until his death in 1947.

Half Holiday, Alec Home from School,
1906, Elizabeth Forbes

The Terminus Penzance Station, 1925, Stanhope Forbes

The Safe Anchorage, 1909, Stanhope Forbes.



  1. a first rate article on the famous couple. I have one of her works.

    Anyone familiar with the worth of her work (as of Jan., 2016?)

  2. Thanks for your comment. As to the value of your work, it would depend on its date, size, content, and condition. Are you British? If you live near London or any Tate branch, I'd contact them, arranging for them to take a look at it. I would assume both artists have full listings of their works on line. I'm sure the Tate would, in any case.

  3. Very interesting article. I own quite a lot of artwork and personal items belonging to Stannie and Elizabeth. My grandmother and Stannie's second wife Maude were close friends. I have lots of Stannie's early life drawings, sketches for some of his famous paintings and original watercolours for King Arthur's Wood by Elizabeth, also a beautiful ivory fan belonging to Elizabeth, signed by many famous artists who must have attended the school in the early day's. I would be grateful to know values of such items, I was told that Newlyn paintings are not that desirable these days.

  4. AKL--

    What you have is a collection, and as such, it may be worth far more than the sum of its individual pieces. Most areas have knowledgeable art appraisers who will look over your items and give you a ballpark figure. They may also charge you to do so. Most larger art museums will do the same for free. Of course, it's only at auction that the true value can be ascertained. On the other hand, they may be worth more to you as family heirlooms, in which case their value is irrelevant.