I admit that my art education is lacking, so I’m rarely surprised when I “meet“ a new artist. It happened yesterday as I was browsing around and found myself learning about the Newlyn School of painting, and one of the artists associated with it.
Newlyn is a little fishing port on the south coast of Cornwall’s Penwith peninsula. It’s a scenic place, and it’s always been an attraction for artists. One of the first to settle in Newlyn was the British painter, Walter Langley.
Part of the charm of Newlyn was that it was different. The lives of the people there had scarcely been touched by the industrial revolution. They were hard-working people, primarily fishermen and their families. Accommodations in Newlyn were cheap, and a direct rail line to London offered convenience. More and more artists came to Newlyn, forming a popular plein air colony of painters.
Although Walter Langley was one of the first artists to call Newlyn home, he never truly gained much recognition. He came from a working class family, and he painted scenes of the working class. He was also primarily a watercolor artist, rarely working in oil as so many of his contemporaries did.
Langley still gets little recognition, it seems. Despite doing a number of searches online, I’ve been able to come up with only a smattering of information about him and his art. I did come across this at Wikipedia:
Politically left wing for his era, he was noted for his social realist portrayals of working class figures, particularly fishermen and their families. He was a supporter of Charles Bradlaugh, a radical socialist politician. His own working-class background enabled him to identify with the villagers and the hardships they endured, many of his paintings reflect this sympathy with the working-class fisher-folk among whom he lived.
One of his best-known paintings — relatively speaking — was based on a poem by Charles Kingsley. The ballad tells the woeful tale of three fishermen who set out to sea only to perish in a storm.
In the morning gleam as the tide went down,
And the women are weeping and wringing their hands
For those who will never come back to the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And the sooner it’s over, the sooner to sleep—
And good-by to the bar and its moaning.
From “The Three Fishers” by Charles Kingsley
The painting, like so many others Langley did, was in watercolor, and although it’s considered one of his best-known works, I wasn’t able to find much information about it.
Another of his “well-known” works is “Between the Tides”, painted in 1901, yet again, it was hard to find too much information about the work, other than the fact that it was done in oil.
Langley was obviously a very talented artist, one who understood the every-day men and women he painted.
Yet he seems to have been largely overlooked by his fellow artists, and his online presence today seems to be primarily through sites that sell reproductions of his works.
While Kingsley’s poem lives on and has been set to music and recorded many times, Walter Langley, it seems, has simply been forgotten over the years. Of course I’m curious. Was it because of the ordinariness of his subjects? By that, I mean his focus on the common man, the laborers, the dreariness and drudgery of their daily lives? Has Langley been pushed out of mind because so much of what he painted was sad and sorrowful? Was he unpopular because of his radical politics? Or was he considered a lesser painter because he worked in watercolors and charcoal more than oil? Somehow Langley seems to have been caught between some unfathomable tides, swept out to sea, and lost from us.
I’m not a great Googler, so maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. Maybe there’s a wealth of information about Walter Langley and I’m just not finding it. Somehow, though, I don’t think that’s the case. I think — for whatever reason — Walter Langley is just one of those artists who never got the recognition he deserved. But, again, what do I know?
I know I’d like to learn more about Langley and the Newlyn School of art. The official colony no longer exists, but Newlyn is still said to be a popular place for artists to gather.
While browsing around, I did come across this. If you’re a fan of Joan Baez — and who isn’t? — click and enjoy!