Stanhope Forbes was born in Dublin in 1857. His father was a railway manager and his mother was French. Forbes attended the Royal Academy in London from 1876, and in 1880 went to study in Paris at the studio of Bonnat. In 1881, he went to Brittany with a fellow artist. During this time in France, he came into contact with the new “plein air” painters, who dramatically influenced his style.
Forbes arrived in Penzance in 1884 and soon moved to Newlyn, where he became a leading figure in the growing colony of artists.. He was already an established artist who preferred to work out of doors. His first Newlyn painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy to the acclaim of the public. This triumph attracted other artists to the area. Forbes later married Elizabeth Armstrong, another accomplished artist who specialised in painting scenes of local children.
Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes founded their School of Painting in 1899. This attracted a new generation of artists to the area, including Ernest and Dod Proctor. Forbes was a familiar and popular figure in West Cornwall for the remainder of his life. He continued painting in the open air well into the 1930s, when he could often be seen surrounded by curious children. He died in 1947, a few months before his ninetieth birthday.