Walter Langley (British painter) 1852 - 1922
Walter Langley was born in Birmingham on the 28th June 1852. Gifted from a young age, he attended classes at the Birmingham School of Design. In 1865 he found work as an apprentice to a local lithographer, August Heinrich Biermann, but continued his classes at the School of Design and in 1873 was awarded a two-year scholarship at the South Kensington School of Art in London. In 1873 Langley submitted his first works to a public exhibition, but by 1875 Biermann had offered him a partnership in his business and it was thus that Langley returned to Birmingham to resume his career as a lithographer. Langley obviously recognised that he must also continue to develop his artistic career and enrolled in classes firstly at the Midland Art Guild and then at the Birmingham Society. During this time, Langley was in contact with the artist Francis Hinckley who undertook still lives and figures in watercolour. Furthermore, artists such as Hubert Von Herkomer and Frederick Walker exhibited at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and certainly Langley would have taken note of their works. Later in his career, it is possible to see Langley working with similar themes also used by Walker and Herkomer in his depictions of Newlyn life. In 1876, the demand for lithographic work hit a low and Langley began to produce many more paintings. By 1879 Langley had become a professional artist, giving up his career as a lithographer and in 1880 he made his first visit to Newlyn in Cornwall, which was to be one of the main subjects in his paintings for the rest of his career. The subject of the sea and most notably its symbolic relationship with death and the hardship surrounding those whose livelihood depended on it, was a popular theme in Victorian art and drew many an artist to coastal villages. Langley was one of the first artists to visit Newlyn, arriving before others such as Stanhope Forbes and Henry Scott Tuke discovered the delights of the village in 1884. The mild climate in Cornwall allowed artists to work en plein air and produce remarkably fresh and vivid scenes of Cornish life. Newlyn is primarily known for its fishing, and certainly in 1880 it was the main source of income for its residents. Whilst Newlyn was, and still is, a picturesque seaside destination, the permanent residents of the small village were stricken by poverty as income from fishing was erratic at best. In 1880 Langley returned to Birmingham and in the same year terrible storms struck the Cornish coast, and many fishermen lost their lives. A national campaign to aid fishermen went underway and it would have been difficult to avoid the plight of those whose lives had been affected by the tragedy. In 1881 Langley received a commission from a wealthy patron in Birmingham to work in Newlyn for a year and in 1882 he took up residence near the village and began to paint scenes of the people of Newlyn, most notably the women and their role in the community. "These paintings established Langley's distinct artistic style and choice of subject matter in the mind of the art viewing and purchasing public and, coupled with his admission to the Institute of Painters in Watercolours (later the Royal Institute), drew attractive offers of commissions, ensuring he would stay on in Newlyn". 1 Towards the end of 1885 Langley moved back to Birmingham to be with his wife and children, but after a brief visit to Newlyn in 1886 to complete his watercolour for the Institute's Spring Exhibition that year, he finally moved there in the Spring of 1887. During the time he had been absent from the village, his Newlyn subject matter had changed very little and continued to reflect the hardship of life in the fishing village.