Description: Daily bread
signed and dated 'STANHOPE A FORBES 1886.'
oil on canvas
22 x 17 in. (55.8 x 43.2 cm.)
Artist or Maker: Stanhope Alexander Forbes, R.A. (1857-1947)
Notes: Liberated from Léon Bonnat's teaching studio in Paris during the summer of 1881, Stanhope Forbes made his way to Cancale where he placed himself among the stone houses of the fishing port and painted A Street in Brittany. The experience was character-forming and the picture, purchased the following year for Liverpool, a success. It enabled him to apply the methods he had recently acquired in the atelier to a real situation. He worked in the open air and according to his letters, though unable to find authentic Breton costumes, found the local peasant dress was 'pretty tasteful which I think even better'.
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After his arrival at Newlyn in Cornwall in January 1884, Forbes evidently had similar thoughts. Newlyn, like its French counterparts, Concarneau, Cancale and Pont-Aven, boasted a recent influx of painters, many of whom had, in company with him, been trained in the Paris ateliers. The Cornish fisherfolk were much less picturesque than their French equivalents and he noted in a letter to his mother that 'the girls will not pose in the streets'. In addition the locals were mostly Primitive Methodists who were teetotal and respected the Sabbath, much to the chagrin of some of his fellow painters. However, on finding a studio and lodgings, he soon overcame these reservations and started to produce the first of his regular submissions to Royal Academy exhibitions. The titles of these monumental works - A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, shown in 1885 and Off to the Fishing Grounds, 1886 - instantly explain their content and declare the artist's ambition to project everyday activities on a grand scale.
Whilst he looked to the harbour for his Academy subjects Forbes, remembering the Cancale experience, also stationed himself in the steep, narrow lanes between the houses in order to depict less imposing scenes of village life. The first of these, Old Newlyn, 1884 (Private Collection) and A Newlyn Street, c.1884 (National Trust, Standen) show stone structures built into the hillside with exterior stairways leading to upper rooms and fisherman's lofts in which nets were repaired. Such was the random construction of these ancient cottages that alleys were often 'blind', or led into private yards. Works of this type, recalling the seventeenth century Dutch masters who specialised in 'genre' paintings containing hidden narratives, were submitted to the New English Art Club and the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours. In these, women did not work at the front steps of their cottages, as they did in France and the little streets in Newlyn were often empty, save for local children who would abandon their play when a painter appeared. On occasion they became Forbes' subject matter - as in the present example where an infant and mother call from an upstairs room to a child who has been sent to fetch 'the daily bread'. Her dramatic silhouette recalls similar foreground back views of children, used to great effect in the work of Walter Osbourne. The mother, most probably a fisherman's wife has hung a small catch of fish and her apron on the wall to the right, leaving her shoes on the doorstep before going up to attend to her baby. A wicker basket, possibly containing potatoes, is tilted against the step. What could be decaying flowers hanging on the wall beside the door may indicate a recent bereavement - perhaps a relative lost at sea. The loaf and fishes may well have Biblical connotations, but they might also denote the mutual support within a close-knit community.
Forbes brought a French métier to the Newlyn streets. The dramatic 'square brush' manner of painting across the forms to give breadth and solidity is evident here. He enjoyed the subtle shades of the grey local stone that complemented the grey skies of the south-east facing port. In the year The Daily Bread was painted, he noted that his name had appeared in a recent issue of The Saturday Review, referring to the 'squareness of touch' that seems 'just now to be a favourite maxim' of 'Mr S.F. or at any rate...his numerous followers'. Forbes had quickly established himself in Newlyn. One of his first contacts had been with the painter, Walter Langley, a watercolourist who had found favour with Forbes' uncle, the celebrated collector, James Staats Forbes. Langley, a novice with oil paint, was keen to learn as much as he could from Forbes, and in his watercolours he had already found a market for genre scenes of the Newlyn alleyways. He and others who were less conspicuous at the Academy, relied heavily upon compositions like The Daily Bread. A new school was emerging, a new modesty, passed the credit for his inspiration to the place and its people. 'Every corner was a picture' Forbes declared, '...and the people seemed to fall naturally into their places and harmonize with their surroundings.'
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