Elizabeth Adela FORBES

Elizabeth Adela Armstrong FORBES NEAC, ARWS, RPE
nee ARMSTRONG aka Mibs

Canadian-born artist (29 December 1859) who became a central figure in the art circles of West Cornwall, as well as being a nationally known and respected painter. Her early studies in art included periods at the Kensington Art School aged 14, while living by chance next door to D G Rossetti (but never meeting), and studying the work of the Pre-Raphaelites; then studying at the Art Students' League, New York (1878-81) with William Merritt Chase (1849-1916).  Shorter visits, always accompanied by her mother, were made to Munich where she met Marianne Preindlsberger (later Marianne L M STOKES), and Pont Aven where she was tutored in etching.

In 1884 she joined up with the Art Students' League again to visit and work in Holland. In that same year her outstanding painting Zandvoort Fisher Girl was exhibited, a painting destined to become one of her hallmarks, not unlike School is Out. In the period 1883-89 she participated in the name of Elizabeth Armstrong (Specialty: Domestic) in more than sixty-three principal London exhibitions. Her outstanding early work in etching, fortunately collected by her mentor in the art, Mortimer MENPES, is catalogued, but did not develop later in her career.

Scott, in Painting at the Edge, notices a fleeting visit from Elizabeth Armstrong (and her mother) at Walberswick, Suffolk, from which two etchings were produced. After marriage to Stanhope FORBES, her work diminished in quantity though not in quality, and despite preferring the more cosmopolitan art crowd of St Ives, she was always most closely associated with the so-called 'Newlyn school' of artists.

She was a Medallist in the Paris Universal Exhibition 1889, a Gold Medallist in Oil painting in the Chicago Exposition 1893 and the winner of a Merit Award in the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists Exhibition 1910. Together with her husband, Stanhope FORBES, she developed and sustained the FORBES School of Painting from its institution in 1899 until her untimely death in 1912. By the end of the 1890s Elizabeth was being feted as the leading female artist in Britain.

Her nickname 'Mibs' was a shortening of 'Forces Mibs', a backslang version of chatting between the friends at Myrtle Cottage (aka 'The Myrtage') where the JESSE cousins (Cicely JESSE and Wynifried Tennyson JESSE aka Fryn) and Dod SHAW (later PROCTER) lived whilst they attended the Forbes School. In 1907 Elizabeth organised a five-week holiday for a number of her pupils, where they stayed at Boleigh Farm in Lamorna - a memorable event.

Both Elizabeth and Stanhope were deeply engaged with the development and life of the new Passmore Edwards Art Gallery at Newlyn (NAG), from its establishment in 1895, and continued to exhibit there throughout their creative lives.

Her watercolour paintings produced both for exhibition and as a book for their only child, Alec, King Arthur's Wood, was published in large (elephantine) format in 1904. Her model for the figure of King Arthur in this mammoth fairy tale was her colleague and friend Thomas Cooper GOTCH. In 1908-9 she initiated the publication of an arts periodical, The Paper Chase, edited by her close friend F Tennyson JESSE. It was discontinued after the first two issues owing to her terminal illness. Elizabeth died of cancer on 16 March 1912, aged 51, in Newlyn, after three years of treatments and recuperative rest-cures in London and France.

In her obituaries, she was described as the 'Queen of Newlyn'. In 2005, in the portraiture exhibition Faces of Cornwall at Penlee House, the following were displayed: Half-Holiday (Alec home from school c1909, Penlee Collection); Newlyn Maid (NAG Collection); Cicely Jesse (Penlee Collection); A Zandvoort Fishergirl (1884, NAG Collection) and her well-known masterpiece, School is Out (1899). Although the latter in the Penlee Collection is a Newlyn School painting, and the subject thought to be from that area, it was painted at the time she was working at Percy CRAFT's Studio in St Ives. Hence the subject may be based on a St Ives school room.


Painter, etcher and illustrator using oils, mixed media, watercolours, chalk and crayon; publisher, teacher

works and access

Access to works:  Penlee House and Museum, Penzance (Newlyn Collection); Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro (A Dream Princess, 1897); Guildhall, London; Walker, Liverpool; Manchester; Oldham; National Gallery of Canada (Amico On-line); National Museum of Women's Art, Washington, DC;  V&A (Newlyn Collection of Drypoint etchings); WCAA (Hypatia Image Archive: EAF) Catalogue raisonne; Wolverhampton

Cook, Hardie and Payne (2000) Singing from the Walls (multiple col & b&w illus)

Rezelman (1884) (6 illus) Universal microfilms, Michigan

Sparrow (1905) Women Painters of the World (4 illus)




Dowdeswell's (3) 1890

Fine Art Society, London Children & Child Lore (Solo) 1900

Grosvenor Gallery, London 1885-86, 1888-90

Leeds Spring Exhibitions:                            1895  Fuss and Feathers  (347) £15.15, A Sunny Path  (790) £14.14                           1896 The Edge of the Wood  (650) £84                           1897 On the Ouse  (424) £12.12; The Towing Path  (439) £12.12; A Fairy Story  (514) £84                           1899 The Dream Princess  (613) £100.

Leicester Galleries, London Model Children and Other People (Solo) 1904

NAG from Opening (1895ff), Loan Exhibition 1958, Studio Sale (Newlyn Orion Benefit) 1981

Notts Castle (2) 1894

RA 1883 ~98, 1900-06, 1908-12

RI 1883

Chicago World's Columbian Exposition 1893 (Gold medal)

Penlee House, Penzance and Touring Singing from the Walls 2000 (Exhibition and Catalogue Raisonne),                                               Women Painters (Group) 2002

Society of Painter-Etchers from1883

Whitechapel (7) 1902

Falmouth Art Gallery Women Artists (Group) 1996

The Exchange, Penzance 'Print!' Apr-Jul 2011: Contemporary and historic prints/printmakers

Two Temple Place, London: 'Amongst Heroes - the artist in working Cornwall' Jan-Apr 2013



Society of Painter-etchers (Associate 1883); 

New English Art Club (Associate 1886)

Newlyn Society of Artists

Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (Associate)

misc further info

 Communication from George Bednar (Jan, 2014) about Spring exhibitions at Leeds Gallery in the years specified.


Personal Biography

Birch (1906; repr 2005 Truran) Stanhope A Forbes and Elizabeth Forbes;   

Chester, Austin (1908) 'The art of Mrs Stanhope Forbes' The Windsor Magazine XXVlll June-November 1908 pp 612-628.

Cook, Hardie & Payne (2000) Singing from the Walls, The Life and Work of Elizabeth Forbes (Catalogue Raisonne andillus)

Crozier (1904) 'The Newlyn School of Painting, Mr and Mrs Stanhope Forbes as Teachers' (repr in Hardie 2009)

Dixon (1904-5) 'The Art of Mrs Stanhope Forbes' London: Lady's Realm Arrow Reprint of 1972 (pp 188-196, 9 b&w illus)

Postlethwaite (1894)  'Some Rising Artists' bracketing Forbes with Brangwyn Magazine of Art (pp 223-4, portrait) 

Sabin 'Dry Point Etchings of Elizabeth Forbes' The Studio Vol IV:59 (p186 illus)


Gaze (1997) Dictionary of Women Artists

Graves RA Dictionary 1769-1904

Hardie (1995) 100 Years in Newlyn: Diary of a Gallery;

Hardie (2000) Catalogue Raisonne for EAF/Singing from the Walls;

Hardie (2005) Dictionary of National Biography entry

Hardie (2009) Artists in Newlyn and West Cornwall (pp 183-4, illus col & b&w)

Hoyle, H (Sept 2010 Women Artists in Cornwall www.cornishmuse.blogspot.com) 'An Historical Perspective'

Tovey, David (2022) Lamorna - An Artistic, Social and Literary History - Volumes I & II, Wilson Books



Mallett's Index

Messum Fine Art (1996) Now and Then (and subsequent Sale catalogues)

Newton et al (2005) Painting at the Edge

Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership

RWE (1992) Artists from Cornwall, 'Artist Profiles: Historical', pp 33-7

Tovey (2008) St Ives Art pre-1890;

Tovey (2009) St Ives: Social History (under Armstrong and Forbes)

Wallace et al (1996) Women Artists

Wallace(2002) Under the Open Sky

Wood (2008) Victorian Painters



Hoyle, H (March 2013 Women Artists in Cornwall www.cornishmuse.blogspot.com) 'Summer in February - Art in Lamorna 1910-1914'; The Builder 7 April 1900 , p. 337 a review of her exhibition of Children and children's lives at the Fine Art Society