Unwilling to be typecast as a coastal genre painter, Stanhope Forbes began to extend the range of his subject matter in the direction of rural life in the mid 1890s. By the early years of the new century he was painting harvest scenes and gypsy camps in the hills between Newlyn and St Ives. The consistent grey days of his Bastien-Lepage period had given way to colourful midday sunlight, and the more subtle palette of sundown. Forbes, like many Edwardian painters found the colours of evening congenial. The 'close of day' and the farmer's return was a favourite theme in European art in the second half of the nineteenth century. Painters from J-F Millet onwards worked many variations upon a subject that carried undertones of seasonal change, the passing of time, and the acknowledgement that life depended upon the skilful management of seed-time and harvest. Youthful admiration for French Naturalist painters came wrapped in a range of themes derived from la vie rustique. British contemporaries such as George Clausen and Henry Herbert La Thangue followed this international trend and as leader of the Newlyn School, Forbes occupied a prominent place in its dissemination.
After a Day's Work presents the spectator with a classic Forbes composition - looking up a steep country road with buildings on the left, as a horse drawn cart approaches - echoes that of his early Academy-piece Their Ever Shifting Home, 1887 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney).1 The gypsy caravan of this early work is replaced here by the farmer's wagon, and although Forbes's style was less in awe of Bastien-Lepage, we may assume that the broad outlines of the present work were sketched in oil on the motif - a practice he rigorously maintained throughout his career. The irony is that by 1907, motor transportation and farm machinery were being gradually introduced, although Forbes resolutely turned his back on these emblems of modernity. Indeed his insistence upon the 'old world' character of this corner of England led to his being invited to contribute illustrations for Mary Mitford's Sketches of English Life and Character, published in 1909.2 One of these, The Evening Hour, (fig 1) could almost be a companion to the present work, in that it shows a view down a similar street with cottages on the left.
After a Day's Work is however a more dramatic statement. The warm touches in the schoolgirl's bonnet and the ruddy flesh tones of the farmer enrich the blue-grey evening light. On the extreme right, a mother guards her child, enabling the cart to pass. These frame the empty foreground, lit by the glow from a single cottage window. Reflections on the gable wall and wet muddy lane are stated with complete conviction. Back in 1902, when the Newlyn School was fêted with a retrospective survey exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Charles Holmes writing in The Academy summed up the glorious mundanity of the Forbes repertoire.
'A village street, the life that passes through it, and the life that jog-trots within its cottages, would give him subjects for a life-time. Why, he might say, look up or around when there is so much paintable passing before my eyes. In life I never want to look a second time on the subjects that Mr Forbes paints but the paintings themselves captivate me through the downright excellence of the painting and drawing and the honesty of the observation.'3
1 For reference to this work see Renie Free, Victorian Social Conscience, 1976 (exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney), p. 35; see also Caroline Fox and Francis Greenacre, Artists of the Newlyn School, 1979 (exhibition catalogue, Newlyn, Plymouth and Bristol Art Galleries), pp. 83-4.
2 Mary R Mitford, Sketches of English Life and Character with Pictures by Stanhope A Forbes, ARA, 1909 (TN Foulis, Edinburgh). The paintings illustrated in colour in this publication are not strictly illustrations to the text, although they share Mitford's fascination for the uniqueness of rural life.
3 CLH, 'From Cornwall to Whitechapel', The Academy and Literature, 5 April 1902, p. 369.