Stanhope Forbes: Father of the Newlyn School

The last exhibition at Penlee House – ‘A Casket of Pearls’ – a celebration of its twentieth anniversary – was always going to be a difficult act to follow, but I take my hat off to whoever decided that Stanhope Forbes was the man for the job.

I knew that I loved many of his painting of places I know, I knew that he was there at the beginning of the Newlyn School, and that he taught art and founded an art gallery there; but it was only when I walked around this exhibition that I realised that there were so very many paintings and that his talent was so broad.

I also learned a little more about the man that gave me a greater understanding of the arc of his life and his work.

I don’t really speak the language of art – and I probably never will – but I’d love to show you some of the paintings and share a few thoughts and memories.

 ‘The Drinking Place’

This painting, opposite the entrance door, was wonderfully well chosen. It fitted the space perfectly, it was clearly close to home and yet familiar, and it would have pulled me in had I not realised that this was a must- see exhibition.

Not far away was a portrait that I didn’t know – and it was love at first sight.

 ‘Portrait of Florence’

I couldn’t help thinking that it would have made a lovely cover for a green Virago Modern Classic, and I wondered if this was the Florence who gave her name to Florence Place, close to Newlyn Bridge.

I have to say that the curators of this exhibition have done very well, gathering together works from this museum’s own collection with works from other galleries and from private collections.

I particularly pleased to see this painting from a private collection:

 ‘The Quarry Road’

My first thought was – I know that road! It runs behind the granite quarry where my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather worked.

Newlyn is best known for painting and fishing, but it was also a quarry town. Travel around the harbour and up the hill towards Mousehole and you will come to Penlee Quarry.

I remember when I was a little girl my father used to take me down the hill from my grandparents house to see the industrial narrow gauge railway that took stone down from the quarry to the quay, where it was loaded onto stone boats that would sail across the bay ….

One of the things that I noted down to say about this exhibition was that it was lovely to see so many contrasts.

In the first room there were many big paintings –  and a few very small ones.

‘Penzance Regatta Day’

This is my favourite small painting. It’s our promenade and that dog is so like Briar!

The promenade has changed somewhat over the years, but when I saw this painting of Newlyn Bridge I realised that it has hardly changed at all.

 ‘On The Bridge’

The Man of the House remembers playing down there with his cousins, and, more recently, we’ve walked up the stream with Briar at low tide.

Here’s another lovely painting of a bridge a few miles away.

 ‘Relubbus Bridge’

The other contrast I saw was between different kinds of light. When we crossed the corridor to the next rooms we saw that paintings had been arranged to move from the light outside to dark interiors and then back outside again.

I hadn’t known that Forbes was widowed in 1912 and that he lost his only son a few years later. That made this portrait of his son, painted after his death, particularly poignant.

 ‘Second Lieutenant Alec Forbes (d.1916), Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry’

Years later, during World War II, Forbes painted the main street of my home town.

 ‘Causewayhead, Penzance’

I have always loved this painting, but I hadn’t notice that it included representatives of all three armed services.

Another thing I should say is that this isn’t purely a Cornish exhibition, and there are paintings of other people and places; but I had to pick out the paintings of places I knew and loved.

 ‘Young Apprentice: Newlyn Copperworks’

I love Newlyn Copper, and I remember we had a school  trophy very much like the piece in the painting. I also remember being set to clean it with a couple of friends during a PE lesson when it was too wet to go out and play netball. We thought that we had done a wonderful job, but when we saw it presented a few days later we realised that we had completely forgotten to clean the back. The front was lovely though …

The painting that I particularly wanted the Man of the House to see was upstairs.

 ‘The Terminus: Penzance Railway Station’

His father had been a train driver during the last days of steam, and it had occurred to me that this is the station as he would have known it as a boy, when his ambition to drive trains was forming.

That was the last painting we saw, but, as we haven’t seen the sea yet I really must show you just one more.

 ‘Gala Day’

This was  on the way down from my Grandparents’ house to Sandy Cove where we used to watch the little train and the stone boats. You just turn right below those buildings …

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Stanhope Forbes: Father of the Newlyn School runs until 9th September 2017.

Do visit if you have the chance. There are so many more wonderful paintings to see, and art is so much lovelier, so much more alive, face to face than it can ever be in a book or on a computer screen.

This Weekend I Have Been …

… heading across the road to the beach with Briar. Dog ban notices have gone up on the far end of the promenade but not on our stretch, and so we are hoping she – and the other dogs we meet down there – are all legal this year.

… wonderfully engaged by an exploration of the themes explored in Lynn Knight’s ‘The Button Box.’ Women’s lives, the clothes they wear, social history and, of course, buttons. A talk, a conversation, and more questions thrown into the air than there could ever be time to answer. There was so much to think about it, and I’m eager to get back to the book that I’ve been dipping into for a while.

… learning so much about art and creativity in Russia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century from Charlotte Hobson, author of ‘The Vanishing Futurist.’ It was clear that she knew and loved her subject, she showed a range of extraordinary images, and I left eager to read and learn more.

… taken to Battery Rocks by Briar. I hadn’t taken there for ages, not wanting to push her too much now she’s not as young as she was, but when we went across the road she turned left instead of heading down to the beach and made it clear where she wanted to go. She had no trouble with the rocks, she happily chased her tennis balls across the beach, retrieved them from the sea, and did a good bit of swimming.

… having a lovely time at the Stanhope Forbes exhibition at Penlee House. I saw paintings I loved in ‘real life’ for the first time, I learned more about the artist, and I realised there was much more to his work than I had realised. This really needs a post of its own so that I can share paintings and thoughts.

… walking in the park with Briar; just to very things up a bit.

… listening to romantic novelist Jean Burnett explaining how her reading inspired her to travel, how her subsequent memoir led to her being given the journals of a Cornish lady who had travelled to the Himalayas in the 19th century. That led to her editing the journals for publication; and though I have reservations about her work I am interested to look at the book, and I was glad to be reminded that I have a good number of Virago Travellers to read.

… captivated by  author and indigo expert Jenny Balfour Paul telling the story of forgotten adventurer Thomas Machell, whose illustrated journals she discovered in the British Library. Her book – ‘Deeper than Indigo’ – brings together his story, her uncovering of that story, and her travels to the places he visited. I had to buy a copy, and I have to say that it looks extraordinary.

… taking Briar out of town to visit Madron Well and run in the surrounding fields. There are lots of lovely places to take her around town, but she has always liked a ride in the car and a visit to somewhere she doesn’t get to go to quite so often.

… making slow but steady progress reading ‘War and Peace’ and knitting ‘Franziska.’

… realising it’s time I got back to writing about the books I’ve been reading.

It’s wonderful what you can do in when you take a couple of days off work to extend the weekend.

Thank you Penzance Literary Festival, thank you Penlee House – and thank you Briar!

Casket of Pearls: Celebrating 20 Years of Collecting at Penlee

This was an exhibition that I really couldn’t miss: a celebration of the collection of my hometown museum to mark the twentieth anniversary of its expansion from a small collection of Newlyn School artworks into a fully fledged museum and gallery with collections of fine and decorative art, social history, photography and archaeology.

I still haven’t learned to speak the language of art – and I probably never will – but I’d love to show you some of the paintings and tell you some of my thoughts.

We saw a wonderful array of paintings from the glory days of the Newlyn school. Many of them – alomost all of them – were wonderfully familiar and it was so lovely to see them in real life.There were works by Walter Langley,  Frank Bramley, Harold Harvey, Fred Hall, Henry Scott Tuke, Stanhope Forbes …

  (Abbey Slip, 1921 by Stanhope Forbes)

This is a painting I love for its own sake and because the scene is so familiar. I have walked up and down those steps so many times, my best friend lived just a few minutes walk from the top of the steps, and the Man of the House recalled that his grandfather lived in that part of town too and his father told him that he learned to swim in that harbour basin.

Little has changed today; but the warehouses fell into decay and have been restored as office accommodation, so you’ll see parked cars in front of them today rather than upturned boats. Unless the weather is rough and waves are crashing up …

(Dinner Time by Henry Scott Tuke)

This is such a striking portrait; and it reminded me of a very recent photograph of a group of fisherman in a net loft, in a photographic book published a few years ago to raise finds for the Fisherman’s mission.

(Forty Winks by Fred Hall)

And this is the donkey from the exhibition poster. It was suggested that there might be a link with the writer Derek Tangye, and the Man of the House wondered if it might be an ancestor of the donkeys he knew when he worked out at the National Trust’s Botallack base.

The hallway was filled with photographs from a recently acquired collection. We were particularly taken with an early photograph of St Michael’s Mount Boatman. Their uniforms were remarkable, and most have been horribly cumbersome. Mount jobs were often passed down through families and the Man of the House thought he could see resemblances to one or two of the boatmen he knew as a child.

A number of the paintings on display were chosen by the gallery’s small army of volunteer stewards, and the next painting was the most popular choice.

(On Paul Hill, 1922 by Stanhope Forbes)

I have to commend their taste; and tell you that my father grew up in a house on that hill.

As we moved through the galleries we saw that the paintings were moving forward in time.

I was thrilled to see a painting by an artist who is a particular favourite ‘in real life’ for the first time.

(The Pied Piper by Elizabeth Adela Forbes)

And maybe even better, a beautiful illustrated book that she prepared for her children was on show in a cabinet. There were some lovely sketches by Norman Garstin there, as well as a cartoon by his writer son, Crosbie, showing the artist followed by his daughter Alathea – another artist – and a string of pupils.

I wish I could show you that cabinet, but I can’t.

And, before I leave Elizabeth Adela Forbes behind, I must tell you that her drypoint etchings are quite wonderful.

(Laura and Paul Jewill Hill, 1915)

I know that Harold Harvey is much loved, and a particular favourite of the Persephone Post, so I had to show off one of his paintings from this exhibition. I chose this one because I saw that it was a bequest from one of the subjects, Miss Laura Jewill Hill.

One painting that I particularly liked was a bequest from Doctor Eric Richards. I spotted more of his bequests, I have a number of books from the library book-sale that came from his collection, and I have to think that we have very similar tastes.

(Old Harbour Newlyn by Geoffrey Snyed Gardiner)

Upstairs, we saw the most contemporary works. Some were by artists still alive and working, and we spotted two artists whose paintings we own. Bob Vigg was a friend of my godmother, Michael Praed was one of my mothers teaching colleagues before he began to paint full-time, and I must confess that we liked our own paintings a little more than the works in the exhibition.

There was a great deal of wonderful work in this gallery, and it was here that I saw how certain artists had influenced others.

I was very taken with a painting by John Miller, quite unlike his more famous works. I wish I could show you but it doesn’t seem to be in the museum’s database yet. It was another bequest from Dr Richards …

I loved this view of my hometown.

(Penzance Panorama by Ken Symons)

I have always loved Jack Pender’s work.

(Untitled (Boats at Mousehole by Jack Pender)

And this lovely sunset, over the lighthouse that inspired the young Virginia Woolf, seems to be the right place for me to stop.

 (Godrevy Lighthouse, Carbis Bay by Hector Arthur Mace)

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A Casket of Pearls runs until 3rd June 2017.

Do visit if you have the chance. There is so much wonderful work, and art is so much lovelier, so much more alive, face to face than it can ever be in a book or on a computer screen.

Compass’d by the Inviolate Sea: Marine Painting in Cornwall from Turner to Wallis

Could you resist an exhibition with a title like that – borrowed from Tennyson?

I couldn’t.

I know I’m not entirely objective; because the exhibition is at Penlee House, just five minutes walk from home; and because I was raised by the sea in Cornwall, because the sea always calls me back and fills me with awe and wonder, with love and just a little fear at how very powerful it is.

But I can say that this exhibition spoke to me of the sea I have looked out at for most of my life in every light, every mood, every weather. And it reminded me that, though some things change, many things remain the same.

I don’t really speak the language of art, but I’d love to show you some of the paintings and tell you some of my thoughts.


“St Michael’s Mount’ by J W Turner

Turner’s painting of St Michael’s Mount made a striking poster to advertise this show, and it is the first thing you see as you step through the door. It was smaller than we expected, but it was so striking and the subject was unmistakeable. I was amazed to learn that it was painted from sketches from the artist’s only visit to Cornwall, nearly quarter of a century before the date of the painting. The Mount was never quite that tall, but I’ve seen in in light like that, from nearly the same angle but rather further away. It is quite extraordinary that such light can be held in the memory and then expressed in paint.

Luny, Thomas, 1759-1837; St Michael's Mount

“St Michael’s Mount” by Thomas Luny

Turner’s work set next to a very different painting of the same subject. This one has a touch of the picture-postcard about it, but it is as true a picture of our local landmark.

I observed that both artists had chosen the same angle, and The Man of The House explained that east wing of the castle hadn’t been built then and so there would be little to see from the other side. He knows these things because he lived there in the latter years of his childhood – his family lived in one of the harbour cottages you can pick out in Luny’s painting – and he followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a castle guide for a while.

The next painting I must show you was on the opposite side of the room.

The artist was a Post Raphaelite: John Brett.

Brett, John, 1831-1902; Golden Prospects, St Catherine's Well, Land's End, Cornwall

Golden Prospects, St Catherine’s Well, Land’s End, Cornwall by John Brett (1831–1902)

It took me to a part of the coast I know well and I could sit there – or I could sit looking at that painting for a very long time.

There was a smaller painting by the same artist, and if you look at the rocks in the sea – The Brissons – in that painting and in the painting below – a painting I love but have yet to see – you can see that John Brett must have walked and must have loved that stretch of coast too.


‘The Land’s End, Cornwall’ by John Brett

Brett, John; The Beach at Land's End, Cornwall; National Trust, Wightwick Manor;

‘The Beach at Land’s End, Cornwall’ by John Brett

That was the first room. I can’t show you all of the paintings, because there were so many of them, and because many of them were borrowed from private collections and for that reason – and in some cases for other reasons – they are not to be seen anywhere else.

In between the two rooms there was an array of smaller pieces. There were drawings and etchings. More sketches by Turner, who clearly right around the Cornish coast. And an etching of Queen Victoria’s visit to St Michael’s Mount by local artist Richard Pentreath. I noticed that he chose the same angle as Turner and Luny ….

The paintings in the second room were later. There were a few familiar names – from the Newlyn School and the St Ives School – but there were many names that were new to me.

Carter, Richard Harry, 1839-1911; The Rising Moon and Day's Departure

‘The Rising Moon and Day’s Departure’ by Richard Harry Carter (1839–1911)

These artists filled whole canvases with sea wonderfully well.  I saw new Cornish names, and I saw paintings by artists from America, from Canada and from Australia who had come to Cornwall to paint. I saw places I knew, and places I thought I knew but couldn’t quite place. It was almost too much.


‘Moonlit Sea’ by Robert Borlase Smart

The Man of the House was particularly pleased to see an Alfred Wallis. I can’t say that was one of my favourites from this show, but I noticed how very well this naïve artist caught the movement of boats over the sea.

 My favourite painting from the second room was this one.


‘Morning at Lamorna Cove’ by Lamorna Birch (c 1930)

I pulled The Man of the House right back across the room to see how brilliantly it caught the light.

There’s just one more painting I must show you. It captures another side of the sea, and the relationship between man and the sea; and as the exhibition takes its title from Tennyson it seems right to finish with a painting that takes its name from his work.


‘Crossing the Bar – A Break in the Clouds, St Ives’ by John Mogford (1873)

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Compass’d by the Inviolate Sea continues until 3rd September 2016.