'That furze-clad, ragged moorland, with its winding road, which Stanhope Forbes chose as an appropriate setting for his ‘Quarry Team’, lies beyond a certain roadside hamlet, the sole business and animation of which seem to concentrate in the forge or smithy. Its importance can be understood when one remembers that this is the high road to all the Land's End district ; so here stop for gossip and repairs all the farmers on their way to and from Penzance Market.’
Mrs. Lionel Birch, Stanhope A. Forbes, A.R.A. and Elizabeth Forbes, A.R.W.S., MCMVI, pp.92-93
In 1893 Forbes moved to Trewarveneth Farm high above Newlyn on Paul Hill. This move was the catalyst for a new direction in his art as he looked inland for subjects of Cornish rural life. The first picture painted at his new home was the magnificent The Quarry Team.
The Quarry Team was perhaps the most realistic depiction of the hard Cornish life that Forbes ever painted and is among his most ambitious and important pictures, made famous by an extremely popular print published by Hanfstaegl. It was painted beneath a steel-grey sky on the road close to Sheffield Quarry towards the Trewarveneth Crossroads at the top of Newlyn’s Chywoone Hill, only a few hundred yards from the gates of Forbes’ new home. It depicts the strength of four magnificent cart-horses carting an enormous block of granite and it is possible that it was inspired by the sight of building materials being transported to the farm when Forbes’ was expanding the property in 1893. According to a newspaper cutting and letter in the Newlyn Archive, the model for the exhausted drayman was Josiah James (19 January 1851-20 February 1919) a member of a large family who farmed at Trewaverneth, who also provided his team of heavy horses. According to the catalogue for the exhibition of Forbes' work in Plymouth in 1964, the picture was damaged by the suffragette activist Gwendoline Cook (alias Ethel Cox) who attacked it with the end of her umbrella as an act of vandalism when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1894. It seems that the picture was chosen due to its size and the eminence of the artist as the most important member of the Newlyn school of painters. The tear was evidently repaired and the picture remained in Forbes' studio for many years as he regarded it as his magnus opus.
The Quarry Team was eventually purchased by Miss Polglase and her sister Mrs Rosa Warren of Treneere Manor, two of the four daughters of a Cornish farmer and tin and copper miner Captain Joseph Polglase, who had made his fortune in the American gold-rush. The Polglase sisters were assisted in their negotiations with Forbes by their trusted retainer Mr Symons, who was the head gardener at Treneere. A letter dated 17 December 1941 from Forbes to Symons explains the circumstances in which the painting was purchased; ‘I am very much obliged to you for your letter & am greatly pleased to learn that Mrs Warren & Mrs Polglase are interested in my picture The Quarry Team which I had the pleasure of showing you recently. I can well understand that in times such as these it requires careful consideration before deciding to acquire important & costly works of art & it is the more gratifying that these ladies should at all consider taking such a step. I will therefore ask you to convey my warm thanks to them. In naming the price I mentioned to you I went a considerable way in reducing it as much as possible since a picture of this size is greatly handicapped by its large dimensions but it would be such a satisfaction to me to know that this picture which I value very highly as one of the most important of my career has passed into/hands who would appreciate it & care for it. Will you therefore tell these ladies that I would be willing to reduce the figure by 30% bringing the price which I would accept to £175. I must ask you to consider this as strictly and absolutely confidential for you can well understand I would not like it to be generally known that I am offering it for a sum so much below what my works usually command. But to find a home for it in Cornwall where it was painted would please me so greatly that I am happy to make this offer. I may add that it would give me great pleasure to show it to the ladies if they would at any time care to call and see it. I would like to say how much Mrs Forbes and I enjoyed your recent visit and the very cordial interest and appreciation you showed of our work.
Sincerely yours Stanhope A Forbes’
The Polgrave sisters may have purchased the picture because they felt it was an appropriate subject for their home which was built of Cornish granite using wealth derived from the toil and industry of Cornish men and work-horses. Following Forbes’ death in 1947 they wrote to his widow to express their gratitude for Forbes’ generosity and their love of the painting: ‘As the proud possessors of one of his greatest and most renowned works, which has for years given us much joy, we felt we had, so to speak, a personal link with its creator, who's [sic] brush not only revealed the genius of the painter, but left upon his canvas's an impression of himself, and his loftiness of soul.’
The painting passed down through the Polglase family to the last remaining sister Edith who died in 1956 and bequeathed the house and its contents to Mr Reginald Symons, the son of the estate gardener who had helped with the negotiations with Forbes in 1941. Reginald Symons died aged ninety-five in 2006, leaving Treneere and its furnishings to St Dunstan's - a charity providing assistance to ex-servicemen and women with significant sight loss – the picture was sold in 2007 and left the house that it had hung in for over sixty-five years. It was exhibited in Cornwall and in London in 2014 and in 2017 was a highlight of the major Forbes retrospective held at Penlee House.
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