viernes, 22 de julio de 2016


Christa Zaat

Walter Langley (British painter) 1852 - 1922
Waiting for the Boats, 1885
42 x 120 cm. (16 x 47i n.)
signed and dated l.r.: WALTER LANGLEY / 85
private collection

Catalogue Note
Walter Langley was one of the first artists to settle in Newlyn and his watercolours of the West Cornish fishermen and their families are central to our concept of the Newlyn School, the group of artists who collectively represent one of the most important manifestations of late Victorian naturalism and plein-air painting. His father was a tailor from Birmingham, his mother was illiterate and with this modest family background Langley had not been able to afford the artistic training in the European ateliers which were the fertile source of inspiration for many late nineteenth century artists. However he had a technical ability that was exceptional and because his knowledge of Cornish life made him able to depict the locals with naturalism rather than artificial sentimentality. He was at his best when painting in watercolour but during his earliest and most interesting phases of work his preference for this overlooked medium meant that his work was often ignored by the art critics. Fortunately his work has experienced a revival in recent years, with a retrospective held in Newlyn in 2011. It is now recognised that, with the exception of Stanhope Forbes, there was no artist who made a greater contribution to the Newlyn School of painting, both in terms of a substantial number of pictures that he produced and the intense sympathy the pictures express for the village's fishing community.

When Langley was fifteen he was a lithographer's apprentice and he won a scholarship to the South Kensington School of Art, where he studied design for two years with the intention of entering the flourishing jewellery trade in Birmingham. He soon decided to become a professional painter after he found jewellery designing to be uncongenial. In 1879, married and with a young family, he helped to found the Birmingham Art Circle, two years before he was elected an Associate of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

In 1880 Langley made his first visit to Newlyn and by January 1882 he had resolved to settle there with his family. He encouraged other artists to join him in Cornwall, including Edwin Harris who he knew in Birmingham, who arrived in 1883 the same year that Thomas Cooper Gotch and his wife arrived. In 1884 Stanhope Forbes discovered Newlyn and became the acknowledged leader of the small group of resident artists. Forbes and Langley respected one another, but Forbes had a rather sneering attitude towards Langley who he saw as his social inferior because of his humble background and his lack of an artistic training at the Royal Academy Schools. Forbes patronisingly referred to Langley as 'Little Man' and the animosity between the artists may have been partly due to Forbes' jealousy of the success that Langley had already achieved; he once remarked that Langley was 'a rapid worker, and sells all he does as fast as done'. Langley had avid and wealthy patrons in Birmingham, where the Art Gallery today houses some of his finest works. In 1883, the year before Forbes arrived at Newlyn, Langley had been elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours and one of his pictures had been awarded the place of honour at the Dudley Gallery in London.

Although Langley continued to paint watercolours of Newyln life for many years, it was the 1880s that were the heyday of Langley's career. Waiting for the Boats belongs to a series of large-scale watercolours painted between 1884 and 1886, which also includes In a Cornish Fishing Village - Departure of the Fleet for the North and Among the Missing, a Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village (both at Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance). The Art Journal's review of the exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours in the autumn of 1885 singled out a few paintings in particular: 'We give illustrations of Charles Cattermole's "Desperate Defence", H. Caffieri's "Shutting the Lock Gates" and Walter Langley's "Waiting for the Boats", all of them being subjects of note in the exhibition'. Langley's mastery of watercolour allowed him to capture the clear morning light of Cornwall as the fisherwomen wait on the quayside by the seawall in the last few moments of leisure when they are able to share news, knit and read letters from relatives as they await the arrival of the herring fleet that has been away at sea and is returning with the day's catch. All is still and peaceful before these women's strenuous daily work begins and the women have to unload and clean the fish. The youngest of the women appears to be concerned about the arrival of the boats, perhaps nervous that not all of them will return; many men were killed in ocean storms. The anxious expression on her young face is in contrast to the weather-beaten skin of the older women who are used to sitting and waiting for the boats. It is this subtle sentiment that Langley was able to capture so convincingly, because he understood the women and their hopes and fears and knew what it was like to be poor and to work hard.

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