The Museums Journal reported this week that Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Cornwall has acquired a painting by Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) entitled ‘Inner Harbour – Abbey Slip’. The painting was acquired with the aid of the Friends of Penlee House and various funding bodies and is now on display. Whilst in Cornwall, Forbes was struck by not just the fishing villages and disappearing way of life, but also the railways.
The Royal Academician and realist genre painter is represented in the National Railway Museum collections by two paintings. Below is the less famous but perhaps more affecting of the two – and one of my own favourites in the collection.
It shows a train cutting through a landscape, with navvies working on the line behind after it has passed. Like many of Forbes’s works it shows men labouring in the landscape, but in this case with the addition of a train moving through the centre of the picture. Here we see the new work which the railway industry has brought to the area.
Many paintings of this period depict the railways as scarring the landscape, but this image has a softness which implies an integration of landscape, man and technology. Forbes worked on many images of village life during the inter-war period and here he shows how the railways have extended out to these remote areas. Forbes preferred to work en plein air (the practice of painting outdoors directly from life), a habit formed during a period of study in Paris in the 1880s.
When he returned to England he joined the Newlyn School and continued this tradition of plein air working. The painting also shows the influence of impressionism on English artists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.