Born in Dublin (18 November 1857), the son of a railway manager and a French mother (Juliette Forbes, neé de Guise) who was a driving influence in his life, his interest in art began on family holiday in Ardennes as a child. His father was transferred to London, and Stanny was sent to Dulwich College.
He later studied at Lambeth School of Art and RA Schools, where he staged his first exhibition in 1878. He spent two years studying in Paris from 1880, with his friend (from Dulwich) Henry LA THANGUE, and also in Brittany. Moving to Newlyn in 1884, he painted his famous Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach (Plymouth City Collection) and exhibited it at the RA the following spring. Also that year he exhibited two paintings at Manchester’s Royal Institution (Second Autumn Exhibition, 1884), virtually putting a seal upon his future: At Newlyn, Cornwall and A Cornish Fisher Boy.
In 1886 he was one of the founding members of the NEAC, and in Cornwall had quietly but effectively assumed the mantle of lead promoter of a self-styled colony, league or ‘school’ of artists. His sale of The Health of the Bride to Henry Tate (Tate Gallery Collection) enabled his marriage to the artist Elizabeth Adela ARMSTRONG in 1889. The birth of their son Alexander (called Alec), and the commissioning of their impressive arts & craft-styled home at Higher Faughan, in addition to their busy and productive output of paintings, is best read in their biographies.
Portraits of Stanhope, as drawn and painted by Elizabeth, are several and listed in Cook et al. A long-term portraiture project being carried out by the National Portrait Gallery will include their recent acquisition of A Portrait of Stanhope (reading, c1889). Ten years later, with the establishment of the Passmore Edwards Art Gallery in Newlyn (NAG, 1895) in between and all the efforts this required, the couple opened their Newlyn School of Painting in 1899, combining a new economic force - art and related tourism - within an area of declining mining, fishing and farming fortunes.
In 1910, the year of his election to the RA, a photo-plate of Snared (b&w) was included in the Studio-Talk section of The Studio to honour the RA-Elect. In 1915, following the death of Elizabeth in 1912, he married Maudie PALMER, a former pupil of the school and close friend of the family. In August 1916, his son Alec died in the front line (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry) in France.
Work was the cure, and though critics comment that his later paintings are rather unoriginal, it is equally true that different styles and movements were having their day and his world was gone. In 1924 he designed a poster for the LMS Railway ‘project’. The ‘Round the Studios’ reporter (The Artist, 1932) commented that Forbes was ‘still enthusiastic about out-of-doors painting, to which he had religiously adhered since 1882 when he joined his friends Henry LA THANGUE and Arthur HACKER in France and found that painting en plein air was the only way “to depict nature as she is”.'
Stanhope Forbes, the 'Father of the Newlyn School', died in Newlyn on 2 March 1947, age 89 (GRO).
In the year 2000 'history was made' when Stanhope's superb painting The Seine Boat (1904) was sold at Phillips Fine Art, New Bond Street for £1,211,5000, taking the Newlyn School 'into hitherto uncharted waters' and establishing a world record for the artist.