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Stanhope Alexander Forbes, R.A. (1857-1947)
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Stanhope Alexander Forbes, R.A. (1857-1947)

The Post Office, Newlyn

Stanhope Alexander Forbes, R.A. (1857-1947)
The Post Office, Newlyn
signed 'Stanhope A.Forbes.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
20 1/8 x 24¼ in. (51.1 x 61.6 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Lawrence, Crewkerne, 31 October 1985, Lot 42 (£4,200). Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 8 June 1989, Lot 9 (£15,000).
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Lot Essay

When interviewed for The Artist in 1933 the aged Stanhope Forbes paid tribute to his boyhood friend, Henry Herbert La Thangue, who had died four years earlier. They spent two summers working together in Brittany and Forbes always maintained that there was 'no better influence on his work and methods' than 'working alongside this sincere and earnest comrade and fellow student'. The pair decided 'to paint their pictures out of doors, facing all difficulties, and refusing to depend upon sketches'.1 In 1881 and 1882 when these expeditions occurred, both artists were committed to a bold method of painting across the form, using large square brushes to give breadth and solidity. In later years they modified their technique and went their separate ways, but each retained a belief in the efficacy of painting out of doors. These youthful experiences were formative and while La Thangue roved restlessly within the home counties before establishing his studio in Provence, Forbes found 'the very object of my search' in Newlyn. Speaking to The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1900 he declared, 'Here, every corner was a picture...'.2

By this time he had comprehensively documented the life of the little fishing port and was making forays in to nearby farms and inland villages, painting local gypsies, poachers and itinerant musicians. So popular were these scenes that his work was used to illustrate Mary R. Mitford's Sketches of English Life and Character, published in 1909.3 Forbes was developing his own sense of the picturesque, which although not excluding contemporary features, was more often directed to old buildings and shop fronts. Nevertheless by 1920 in the interests of factual accuracy, busy main streets and modern signage were often preferred to the narrow Newlyn alleyways of the 1880s. Forbes was an artist-reporter.

These are apparent in the present scene, in which a grocer's boy checks the contents of his cart. The location, according to a label on the frame is The Strand, Newlyn. The shop is that of Tom Barnes, newsagent and stationer, which was destroyed by fire in 1933. A Barber's pole indicates a hairdresser's round the far corner of this building.4
Further up the street is 'The Swordfish' public house and the Newlyn branch of Chirgwins, a grocery shop which supplied many of the fishing boats with provisions.5 With its newspaper billboards arrayed with the latest headlines, Barnes' shop is open for business.6

On stylistic grounds the present work is likely to date to the 1920s. At this point Forbes is often presented as a reactionary figure, turning away from modern art, even within a Cornish context. His work for instance differs greatly from the Teutonic or religious symbolism of Ernest Procter and Harold Harvey. It can however be more appropriately placed alongside the work of younger painters such as Allan Gwynne-Jones and Gilbert Spencer, for whom the ruralism of Stanley's Baldwin's Britain was regarded as its bedrock. After the Great War, when fissures began to appear in the Empire, and with industry and the ecomomy faltering, artists clung to elemental English values. The contrast between youth and age at this moment is striking and instructive. Taking an ordinary street and making a picture from it not only demonstrates the painter's skill in spontaneous composing, it touches deeper leitmotifs in British culture. '...Every common thing, every good aspect of nature has a beauty of its own' Forbes declared:

'That which might seem awkward and rough, suited as it is to its condition of life, and in harmony with its surroundings, may be most beautiful.'7

A cluster of billboards in a Cornish street is enough to convey this 'harmony'.

1. The Editor [Harold Sawkins], 'Famous Artists, no. 22, Stanhope A Forbes RA', The Artist, 1933, vol. VI, no. 2, p. 58.

2. Stanhope A Forbes, ARA, 'Cornwall from a Painters Point of View', in Annual Report of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society for 1900, 1901 (Falmouth), p. 12.

3. Mary R Mitford, Sketches of English Life and Character, with Sixteen Illustrations from the Paintings of Stanhope A Forbes ARA, 1909 (TN Foulis).

4. Mitford (pp. 174-196) indicates the excitement and curiosity which such places provoked for village children.

5. Information supplied by Dr Eric Richards in the mid-1980s.

6. Forbes had used the reading of newspapers as a theme of several occasions - see for instance, The 22nd of January, 1901, (Reading the News of the Queen's Death in a Cornish Cottage), 1901 (Exeter City Museums and Art Galleries).

7. Stanhope A. Forbes, Annual Report, 1901, p. 7.


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