Saturday, October 19, 2013

Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes - Here we are gathering nuts in May

lizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes, A.R.W.S. (1859-1912) 
Here we are gathering nuts in May 
black chalk and watercolour and bodycolour, on paper 

In 1904 Marion Hepworth Dixon referred to Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes's Here we go gathering Nuts in May [sic] as a work 'recently seen on view in town [London]' and, 'What a merry group of youngsters here tread the springy grass as hand in hand they bound forward on their joyous errand!' (M.H. Dixon, 1904, quoted in J. Cook, M. Hardie and C. Payne, Singing from the Walls, The Life and Art of Elizabeth Forbes, Bristol, 2000, p. 183. The present picture is known by both titles - Here we come gathering Nuts in May and Here we go gathering Nuts in May - in early accounts.

'Joy' was the keynote; these children dance and sing. Individually or in pairs they may have already appeared in separate studies, but here they form part of a coherent composition - a paean to the midsummer hay harvest on the Penwith Peninsula, Cornwall.

The ronde d'enfants was a favourite motif with painters at the turn of the twentieth-century and in Forbes's case, the present watercolour complements her major Academy oil painting, On a Fine Day, 1903 (fig. 1, Guildhall Art Gallery) in which a group of maidens in costumes of the middle ages perform a wildly energetic dance in the countryside.

In the present work Forbes resists her archaizing tendencies and returns to the local children who had provided the inspiration for her earliest successes. With these she introduced a new dimension to the Newlyn School (For a survey of Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes's career, see Cook, Hardie and Payne, Singing from the Walls: The Life and Art of Elizabeth Forbes, Bristol, 2000; see also C. Fox and F. Greenacre, Painting in Newlyn, 1880-1930, 1985, exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, pp. 77-9). While her husband, along with Frank Bramley and Walter Langley painted stern, salty types off to the fishing grounds, unloading the catch, or mourning the lost at sea, she found the primary subject matter in children's play in the fields during idyllic Cornish summers. For her there was no 'straining for originality', and 'accomplished draughtsmanship' driven by 'a poetic vision' led her to 'a certain optimistic expression of the beauty of common day' (E.B.S., 'The Paintings and Etchings of Mrs Stanhope Forbes', The Studio, IV, 1894, p. 191). In this she anticipates the work of Harold Harvey and Laura Knight, while at the same time delving into fairy tales and Arthurian legend in works that complement the later 'Florentine' phases of Thomas Cooper Gotch's career. Forbes as a painter of children excelled. Two solo exhibitions - Children and Child Lore at the Fine Art Society in 1900 and Model Children and Other People at the Leicester Galleries in 1904 - consolidated her reputation in this regard, and in the latter exhibition catalogue, a short introduction by the artist explained something of the following she had among local children. Of 'the little irresponsible folk, the volunteer models of the village and countryside', she wrote, 'When the painter, filled with energy and anticipation, emerges at the day's beginning, they are already watching afar off. They gather in bands. If permitted to carry the painting kit, it becomes a triumphal procession. Desperate their ambition to be 'put in the picture'...But their playmates, the wind and the sun, call too loud to be resisted...and the little restless feet refuse to be the painter...the little sun-burnt faces and the little calico frocks become as much a part of the bright landscape as the patches of pink thrift in the clefts of the granite boulders' (Quoted from Mrs L. Birch, Stanhope Forbes ARA and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes ARWS, 1906, pp. 80-81).

These 'volunteer models' needed no artifice; they might burst spontaneously into dance and song, as in the present work, and it was for the painter to catch their soaring spirit - something as elemental as the rocks and trees of west Cornwall, whence they came.


1 comment:

Hels said...

I will have a look at the catalogue, many thanks. I don't know very much about Stanhope Forbes.