Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947) was an influential artist of the Victorian Age. He is known for his paintings, and as the co-founder, with his wife Elizabeth, of the Forbes School at Newlyn. Both Stanhope and Elizabeth were highly regarded for their skills in painting and illustration.
Stanhope was born November 18, 1857, in Dublin, Ireland, to William Forbes and Juliette de Guise Forbes. His father was considered to have “cultivated literary tastes” and was “an enthusiastic admirer of Dickens and Thackeray, but more especially of Carlyle”. He was remembered as “A kind gentleman, merry and pleasant spoken” by his neighbors. (Birch, Mrs. Lionel, 1906. Stanhope A. Forbes, A.R.A. and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, A.R.W.S. London: Cassell and Company Limited.) His mother was a “vivacious young French lady” and “the devoted friend and genial companion of her sons”. (Ibid.) At that time, his father William worked as the manager of an Irish railway. William’s career would encompass several moves for the family. Stanhope’s brother William became a manager of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, continuing his father’s legacy. (Birch, p. 4)
Stanhope began showing in interest in painting while a young student in Ireland. Within a few years, the Forbes family moved to London, and his parents enrolled him in the art school at Dulwich College. Stanhope continued his studies with a particular interest in painting nature and landscapes. His parents relocated again to Brussels, Belgium, where his father worked with the Luxembourg Railway. Stanhope continued for a time at Dulwich to complete his schooling. His early training in art and painting was developed in both Britain and on the Continent in France and Belgium.
After the Franco-German (or Franco-Prussian) war ended in 1871, his father William lost his job with the Luxembourg Railway and the family returned once again to London. Stanhope was enrolled at the Lambeth School of Art, where he met several influential artists. A lengthy trip to Italy also encouraged Stanhope’s interest in painting outdoor scenes. His father’s friend, Dr. Andrew Melville, helped to arrange Stanhope’s first commission, a portrait. He painted several other portraits soon after. One of these paintings was accepted for exhibition by the Royal Academy in 1879. Over time, Stanhope would contribute a series of works to the Academy.
Although it seemed Stanhope could find success in portraiture, he decided to enroll for further education at an artist’s studio (atelier) in Paris. This period exposed Stanhope to a variety of painters and artistic styles, many from Europe but some from as far away as Japan. It was during this time he fully embraced his interest in painting outdoor life and landscapes, creating numerous paintings of life in rural France. In 1884, seeking new subjects and material, Stanhope planned to spend “a few months” (Birch, p. 24) in Cornwall.
Although he had planned a short stay, Stanhope found inspiration in the small Cornish seaside village of Newlyn. He realized that the scenic countryside had inspired many of his friends and fellow students, and recognized Cornwall influenced both his work and that of many others. He considered the local artist community to be a “brotherhood of the palette” (Birch, p. 27). This brotherhood included both influential artists of the day and some of his friends from school.
One of the arrivals in 1885 was a Canadian art student named Elizabeth Armstrong. She was aware of Newlyn’s artistic reputation. She set up studio space, and like Stanhope, planned to stay a few months. In the spring of 1886, Elizabeth and Stanhope were out for a walk when one local fisherman, who had been a model for Stanhope, proclaimed in public the town gossip that the two would be wed. It turned out their engagement was quite long while both worked on their catalogs. The couple did finally marry in August of 1889. They had a son, Alec, in 1893. (Birch, p. 46)
Earlier in 1889, Stanhope created one of his most famous and successful paintings, titled The Health of the Bride. Mrs. Birch proclaims this work was to “remain forever after a dominant note of his life’s message, his sense of sympathetic humanity” (Birch, p. 37). The original was acquired by the Royal Academy, but prints were very popular with the residents of Cornwall. The picture received the Gold Medal when it was exhibited in Calcutta, India.
Both Stanhope and Elizabeth became successful artists. However, their subjects and styles remained distinct. Elizabeth focused on human subjects, while Stanhope emphasized places and activities in his work. Elizabeth would, in 1904, publish an illustrated book titled King Arthur’s Wood, with a combination of charcoal drawings and watercolors depicting characters related to the Wood and their stories. The book received high critical acclaim. (Birch, p. 83)
By 1899, the art community at Newlyn had gone through many changes. Some artists had returned to their homelands, and others had gone back to live in the cities. To preserve the legacy of Newlyn, Elizabeth and Stanhope established the Forbes School of Painting at Newlyn. They were determined to stay and created the art school to encourage new talent. The school told its students to “Have faith in the worthiness of the end to be achieved, and neglect no apparently trivial detail which may help or wreck your work”. (Birch, p. 109) This statement echoes the philosophy of its founding partners.
Their only child, William Alexander Stanhope Forbes (known as Alec) was born 1893. Like his parents, he had a talent for drawing that developed into an interest in architecture. In September 1906, his parents enrolled him in the private Bedales School in Hampshire, England. He left Bedales in 1911 to study at The Architectural Association School in London, England. In 1915, Alec obtained his commission in the Railway Transport Corps and transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry as a second lieutenant. He was killed in battle in France on September 3, 1916. (Bedales School, William Alexander Stanhope Forbes.)
Stanhope was elected a Royal Academician in 1910 and Senior Royal Academician in 1933. (Cornwall Artists Index)
Elizabeth died at the age of 52 in Newlyn on March 16, 1912. Stanhope remarried to artist Maude Palmer in 1915. She was a student at the Forbes School. Stanhope closed the Forbes School at Newlyn in 1938, after nearly 40 years as an educator. He died in Newlyn in 1947 at the age of 89.
You can now purchase posters of the art of Stanhope Forbes -- and help support the Clan Forbes Society! Click pictures below.
(1) Stanhope A. Forbes, A.R.A. and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, A.R.W.S.
Author: Mrs. Lionel Birch Publisher: Cassell and Company, Limited – London – 1906
N.B. – Mrs. Birch’s book refers to Elizabeth throughout as “Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes” although in most references, including Wikipedia, her name is given as “Elizabeth Adela Forbes”.
(2) ArtUK.org biography page for Stanhope Forbes, Author: Louise Connell
(3) Wikipedia entry for Stanhope Forbes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanhope_Forbes
(4) Wikipedia entry for Elizabeth Adela Forbes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Forbes_(artist)
ArtUK.org website presentation of 84 Stanhope Forbes works:
ArtUK.org website presentation of 40 Elizabeth Forbes works:
Penlee House Exhibit of Stanhope Forbes, Father of the Newlyn School in 2017: