Description: signed l.l.: EA FORBES. oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements note 46 by 36 cm., 18 by 14 in.
Notes: Elizabeth Armstrong was born in Ottawa in 1859 the only daughter of a Canadian government official named William Armstrong. She was adored by her father who encouraged her artistic interests from an early age, engaging an aged Abbé who had studied art in her youth. Without sisters to play with Elizabeth developed a vivid imaginary world into which she could escape. The Armstrongs decided that it would be beneficial for Elizabeth to receive an English education and she was sent with her mother to school in London, living with an uncle on Cheyne Walk next to Rossetti whom she admired enormously but never met. Unfortunately Elizabeth would never see her father again as he died a few months later of a stroke.
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In London Elizabeth was enrolled at the South Kensington School of Art and although she later felt that she had been too young to learn from the rigorous art training or enjoy companionship from her fellow students who were older than her, the school gave her an academic training which meant that she was a technically superb draughtsman. In 1878 Elizabeth and her mother moved back to Canada and for the first time in an otherwise lonely youth, she enjoyed a lively social life. When she went to visit friends in New York soon afterwards, she was introduced to members of the Art Students League and greeted so warmly that she stayed in their company for three years. Here she studied with the group of mainly young artists and was taught the idea of painting en plein air which was still revolutionary at this time. A particularly encouraging tutor named William Chase taught her to admire the work of Millet and Jules Bastien Lepage and persuaded her to undertake a period of training in Munich which he felt was a more superior art centre than Paris. Unfortunately her nationality and gender made her unpopular and rejected by her fellow students and tutors in Germany. She spent five unhappy months at the academy and t was not until the early 1880s in France that she finally found happiness and a distinctive direction for her art. In 1882 Elizabeth Forbes travelled to Pont Aven in France, accompanied by her mother and took rooms at the Hotel des Voyageurs. She had been encouraged to visit this pretty Brittany town by enthusiastic reports from fellow members of the Art Students League in New York and she was not disappointed by the warm reception she received by the slightly Bohemian group of artists who had settled there. It was during her time at Pont Aven that she first heard the name of her future husband Stanhope Forbes, who was working at Quimperle. They did not meet at this time, and it was three years later in Newlyn that Elizabeth and Stanhope were introduced. 'It was while painting in Brittany that she discovered her special aptitude for and delight in representing children. Although children would have been considered an appropriate subject for a woman to paint at this time, Elizabeth seems to have more than warmed to her subject. ' (Caroline Fox, Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School, 1993, p. 43). Elizabeth continued to paint children for the rest of her life, often using her children as models. The present charming example probably dates from around the turn of the century and captures the innocence of childhood that was the hallmark of her best work. A young boy has found a bird's nest or some rare mushroom during his forest forays and stops momentarily to show an interested group of young girls, the spoils of his exploring. Whatever he has found is clearly not too unpleasant as they have not recoiled in horror or run screaming down the lane. This picture was presumably based upon one of those many events that a mother with a young family would have witnessed and has a delightful honesty and commonplace humour. Elizabeth Forbes was particularly talented at penetrating the intrigues and past-times of childhood and this insight is often noted in her work; 'Mrs. Forbes' mind, large in grasp and penetrating in vision, pierces to the true secret of child-like charm, seeing far beyond the superficial prettiness with which art traditions have invested it.' (Mrs. Lionel Birch, Stanhope A. Forbes, A.R.A., and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, A.R.W.S., 1896, p. 69)