Description: signed l.l.: Stanhope a. Forbes.; to be sold with a letter from John Cooling to C B Stanbury dated April 14th 1915 attached to the backboard
oil on canvas
Dimensions: 61 1/2 by 51 1/2 cm. ; 24 by 20 1/4 in.
Provenance: London, Cooling Gallery, in April 1915;
Mr C B Stanbury Esq.
Notes: The Fleet in Sight (private collection) is one of Stanhope Forbes' most important paintings made after his election as a Royal Academician in 1910 and in the same year as he exhibited his Diploma work The Harbour Window. Depicting a group of fishermen's wives and children and veteran mariners at a sea wall watching the return of the fishing boats in the summer sun, this is an everyday image on no particularly significant day in the lives of the robust folk who made their living on the edges of the West coast. The present picture is a study for the principal figures in the finished painting, with only minor differences and omissions. It was Stanhope Forbes' usual method to produce elaborate plein air studies for his pictures, concentrating on a particular section of the composition and recording as much detail of light and shadow as possible. These studies would then be used in combination to build up the composition of the finished exhibition painting in the artist's studio. These sketches often have a greater sense of immediacy and reflect the spontaneity of painting out of doors which the Newlyn School held in great importance.
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'1911 was probably the most successful year Cornwall has ever had at Burlington House, a year which saw Mr. Olsson's 'Moonlit Shore' bought by the Chantrey Trustees, and Mr. Lamorna Birch's magnificent landscape 'Cornwall' hung on the line in the chief room... a few art lovers, ever eager for signs of a vision unspoilt and unfatigued, sought the Newlyn pictures at the Royal Academy exhibitions, welcomed the grey pure light, the sense of atmosphere, the honest painting of the thing seen, fisherfolk and the seaman's sea... all the simple happenings of that remote corner of England.' (C. Lewis Hind, Stanhope A. Forbes, R.A., pg. 6)
The Fleet in Sight was painted in the Cornish fishing port of Mousehole and the specific spot depicted appears to be the harbour wall which protects from the ravages of the ocean the piers which enclose the harbour. Stanhope Forbes had painted several important pictures on almost exactly the same spot, including A Safe Anchorage of 1909 (private collection, on loan to Penlee House in Penzance), The Pier Head of 1910 (Phillips, 17 July 2001, lot 23) and probably also The Old Pier Steps of 1911 (Bradford Art Galleries and Museums). The latter picture appears to depict two of the models that appear on the left in the contemporary The Fleet in Sight, local Cornish girls found among the community of Mousehole fisherfolk.