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Stanhope Forbes

(1857-1947) – Grieving father

Artist Stanhope Forbes helped establish Newlyn Art Gallery. During the war he spoke up for suspected spy Rolf Jonsson and painted posthumous portraits of his son, Alec, killed in 1916. As early as May 1919, Forbes visited Alec’s grave at the Somme and at Newlyn commissioned a fine war memorial.

Credit: Newlyn Art Gallery and photo of external plaque by Alan Hampson

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During the First World War Stanhope Forbes continued to run the school of art which he had started with his wife, Elizabeth, in 1899 at Newlyn.  Seascape painting was restricted for defence reasons, and at least one Newlyn artist, the Swedish painter Rolf Jonsson, was accused of spying.  Forbes successfully spoke up for him at his trial in Falmouth in 1915.  Forbes also married again that year; Elizabeth having died of cancer in 1912. 

When Alec Forbes, his only child, died at the Somme en-route to a dressing station in 1916, Forbes painted two posthumous portraits of him, one of which hangs in the Regimental Museum at Bodmin.  He also painted munition girls and other wartime subjects and managed to visit his son’s grave as early as May 1919 by hitching a lift with his brother who was on official business in France.  He reported to the Prowse family, whose son Arthur had died along with Alec, that ‘I found it the most terrible ordeal and indeed I was scarcely able to endure it’. Later in the year Forbes visited his son’s grave again. 

Back in Newlyn, Forbes became involved artistically, emotionally and financially in the creation of Newlyn’s splendid war memorial.  This memorial was designed by Edward Prioleau Warren, a former pupil of Forbes, and friend of the Gotch family.  The granite work and cross were sculpted by Arnold Snell of Newlyn and the bronze plaques with gold lettering were made by Leonard Merrifield of London.  Forbes’ influence ensured that seven Newlyn artists who died in the war were commemorated there along with Alec; their families contributing to the cost.  In mid-1922, by which time Paul Urban District Council had taken over responsibility for the war memorial, his advice was being sought on how to keep the letters legible – he recommenede a quick rub with an oily rag.    

Stanhope Forbes had been a fairly late arrival to the Newlyn artist’s colony, arriving in 1884, five years after the first artists, and just before the building of the south pier.  Forbes quickly became the acknowledged leader of the artists’ colony after ‘A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach’ was accepted in 1885 for the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition.  He also pushed hard for the colony to have its own art gallery (now Newlyn Art Gallery) where his bronze bust now reposes.  

Key words: casualty

Credit: Newlyn Art Gallery and photo by Alan Hampson