Description: signed and dated l.l.: Stanhope. A. Forbes/ 1943 oil on canvas
Dimensions: measurements note 77 by 61 cm., 30 by 24 in.
Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, 1944, no. 114
Provenance: London, David Messum;
Notes: The present view of Causewayhead in Penzance is almost unchanged today, the only significant alteration being that the road is now pedestrianised. Forbes' picture depicts an urban idyll of harmonious society. In the centre of the composition, a policeman gives directions to two young girls who have come into town to buy groceries at the market. Beside them a farmer drives a horse and trap homewards laden with a milk churn. Soldiers and sailors on leave are conversing with shoppers in the streets, firmly placing the picture in the early 1940s whilst the horse-drawn vehicle and the motor-car show the contrast of old traditions and modernity.
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Forbes particularly liked to paint urban scenes and since his earliest years in Cornwall he had made the daily lives of the Cornish people represented in their own streets the subjects of many pictures. Old Newlyn of 1884 (lot 56 in the present sale), shows the same interest in domestic human activity that we find almost sixty years later in the present picture. Forbes also painted the main streets of Penryn in 1931 and Coignage Hall Street, Helston in 1935 in which '...one has to admire Forbes' skill in accurately portraying the architecture of these towns and the correct scale in which the figures are related to it.' (Caroline Fox, Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School, 1993, p. 89). In his later pictures Forbes often favoured a high vantage looking directly up or down a steeply inclined road and given the dangers of sketching in the middle of a town street during market day, it is likely that Forbes used photographs to assist his work. Comparable pictures include Market Jew, Thursday of 1923 (FIG 1) and the slightly larger Penzance of 1926 (FIG 2) which depict streets that neighbours Causewayhead in Penzance. Like the present picture, Forbes' pictures if 1923 and 1926 show views looking up streets busy with pedestrians and still trampled by the hooves of horses although a few cars are also present.
In Newlyn Forbes recognised a way of life which represented something of lasting value in a country that was becoming increasingly troubled by war and by internal politics. 'Forbes inherited the best of a conventional upper middle-class upbringing - guts, grit, determination, hard work and discipline.' (ibid Fox, p. 93) and in his Cornish neighbours he recognised a similar spirit. He wanted to preserve this rare survival of traditional values and in his art he was able to do so. Forbes' paintings of Cornwall evoke a nostalgia for polite society in which policemen have the time to give directions and the streets are not congested with traffic. As Caroline Fox has asserted; 'His paintings are so popular today because they show a world where human values and endeavour, in the face of the forces of nature and of poverty, shine out. It is their very wholesomeness which feeds the nostalgia of our own difficult times.' (ibid Fox, p. 93)