Request more information
50.5 by 61.5 cm., 20 by 24 ¼ in.
signed with a monogram l.r.
oil on canvas
London, New English Arts Club 1888, no. 8;
Plymouth, Museum and Art Gallery, 1923, no.46;
Newlyn Orion Galleries, Artists of the Newlyn School 1880-1900, 1979, no.71;
London, Barbican Art Gallery, Painting in Newlyn, 1985, no.48;
Penzance, Penlee House Gallery & Museum and Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery, Singing from the Walls: The Art and Life of Elizabeth Forbes, 2000, no.4.36
Caroline Fox and Francis Greenacre, exhibition catalogue for the Barbican Art Gallery, Painting in Newlyn, 1985, repr. p. 123;
Caroline Fox, Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School, 1993, repr. p. 43;
Judith Cook, Melissa Hardie and Christiana Payne, Singing from the Walls: The Art and Life of Elizabeth Forbes, 2000, pp. 20, 178, repr. p. 35
'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)
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.
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 disppointed 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. Her Boy With a Hoe (1883) is a particularly delightful example, showing the head and shoulders of a young boy carrying a hoe over his right shoulder, and a tree in blossom in the background.' (Caroline Fox, Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School, 1993, illus. p. 43) Coincidentally, in France Elizabeth and Stanhope both developed an interest in plein-air painting and in the work of the highly influential French artist Jules Bastien Lepage.
In recent years the present picture has been identified as Boy with a Hoe, but was exhibited in 1888 at the New English Arts Club as April its title taken from the apple-blossom in the background. The picture had previously been thought to date from 1883 and although it is possible that Forbes exhibited the picture six years after its creation, it is more likely that the picture dates from 1887 or 1888 after her marriage to Stanhope and after their move to Cornwall.
The subject of April is similar to George Clausen's Little Haymakers (sold in these rooms, 7 June 2005, lot 82) which was painted in 1885. Although the similarity is probably coincidental, the two paintings show a shared interest in the work of the French plein air painters and demonstrate how Elizabeth adopted modern continental approaches to art at an early stage in her career. She should be regarded as an early exponent of a style which was to revolutionise British art and April is perhaps her most significant work to have been on the auction market in recent history.