Stanhope Alexander Forbes was born in Dublin in 1857. After attending Dulwich College, he trained at Lambeth School of Art and then enrolled in the Royal Academy Schools in 1874. Three years later, he moved to Paris and studied under Léon Bonnat and, influenced by the work of the plein air painters, he spent the following three summers in Brittany producing paintings inspired by its coastal villages. Wishing to continue painting in a similar fashion when he returned to England in 1884, he settled in the village of Newlyn in Cornwall. When his painting, A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, was shown at the Royal Academy in 1885, national attention was drawn to the artists’ colony that had established itself around the village, later known as the Newlyn School, and of which Forbes was a leading figure. Over the next five years as the colony was joined by more artists, it established itself as a major force within British painting.
In 1889 Forbes married fellow artist Elizabeth Armstrong with whom he founded the School of Painting in Newlyn in 1899. In 1910 he was elected a Royal Academician having been elected an associate eighteen years previously. He exhibited regularly with the Royal Academy and continued to do so throughout the inter-war period, producing pictures of the Cornish landscape and village life.
Forbes held true to his naturalist painting principles throughout his career and while teaching at his school. His subjects included various elements of Cornish life such as fishermen, wedding celebrations and Cornish gypsy camps. He died at his home in Newlyn in 1947.