Langley was a Birmingham-born artist (8 June 1852 GRO) who began attending evening classes at Birmingham School of Design at the age of ten, after which he was apprenticed for seven years to lithographer August Bierman, although he continued with his studies at the design school. Langley began to teach himself to paint, and first exhibited three water colours at the RBSA in 1873. He was awarded a two-year scholarship to study design at South Kensington School of Art (1873-75), married Clara Perkins, with whom he had four children, and was instrumental in forming the Birmingham Art Circle.
After a brief visit to Newlyn in 1880, Langley finally settled there in 1882, and is credited with being the earliest ‘pioneer’ of the Newlyn ‘colony’ of artists, certainly the first major artist to do so. He worked away from time to time, and due to disagreements with other artists left for London in disgust, but returned in 1893. After Clara died in 1895 he again attempted to move away, this time back to Birmingham, but again was to return.
He was Gold medallist at the Paris Salon in 1889 for a collection of four watercolours, and he exhibited again in Paris in 1909 from Penzance, and 1932 from London (2). At the Opening Exhibition of NAG he showed four works: The Old Campaigner (sold), The old, old story, A country lass and Tolpedn Penwith.He was honoured by the Uffizi Gallery, Florence who invited him to donate a self-portrait to the Medici Collection in 1895.
In 1897, he married Ethel Pengelly as his second wife, the couple having one more child.
The Cornish Magazine of 1898 used a print of Langley’s One Man One Vote to illustrate an article by Henry Lucy about the MP Leonard Courtney (later Lord Courtney of Penwith). It shows a man, probably a fisherman, staring into space in front of his fireplace, with a copy of the Cornishman newspaper crumpling to the floor. He produced a number of fine watercolours of the fisherfolk of Polperro.
Langley made visits to Holland in 1904 and 1905, and a trip to Belgium the following year. Though not providing him with much work that he could send to the RA, or other exhibiting venues for sale, he considered that the paintings he subsequently executed, with some influences of the Hague school of artists, were amongst his best work ever. His special subjects were the painting of fisherfolk and the real life issues of living, working and dying in fishing villages; he remained loyal to these themes until his death in Penzance on 21 March, 1922, age 69.
[See William WAINWRIGHT’s account in Hardie (2009) ‘The Art of Walter Langley’, a posthumous (1923) celebratory exploration of his watercolour artistry.]
Painter of genre, primarily in watercolour
works and access
Works include: Six of his paintings were included in the 2005 Faces of Cornwall exhibition at Penlee House, Penzance: Study for ‘Disaster’ – Old Grace (oil); Head of a Newlyn Fishwife (wc); The Old Pilot (wc); Study of a Fisherman (charcoal, Penlee Collection); Early Cares (wc, 1887) and a portrait of John Russell Pengelly (wc, 1904), all in Private Collections apart from the Penlee charcoal; Old Fisherwoman (2008 for sale at Great Atlantic, Falmouth), illus in catalogue
Plymouth City Gallery has his painting When One is Old, and Penlee House, Penzance have Among the Missing; Breadwinners; In a Cornish Fishing Village: the Departure of the Fleet to the North and The Sunny South
Illustrated in colour in Cross (p 131) are: Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart did Break (1804, a large Newlyn painting and part of the City of Birmingham collection), and The Orphan, 1889 (Trehayes Collection, Cornwall)
Illustrated in colour in Hardie (2009) The Sunny South (Penlee Hse), in b&w: Among the Missing; Scene in a Cornish fishing village; A Cornish Idyll; The Quay, Newlyn and a photo of the artist in his studio as well as the Wainwright article (pp89-94, his house also illustrated)
Access to work: Birmingham (many); Bristol; Bury; Hull; Walker Gallery, Liverpool; Oldham; Penlee House, Penzance (4); Plymouth (1); RCM, Truro (Still Life); Trehayes Collection (Cornwall); Warrington; Uffizi, Florence (1)
Notts Castle (8)
NAG Loan 1958, Artists of the Newlyn School 1979
RWE Artists from Cornwall Exh 1992 Bristol
Messums Then and Now 1996
Birmingham, Warrington and Newlyn (Travelling exhibition) Retrospective 1997-98 (organised by Penlee House)
Penlee House, Penzance Faces of Cornwall (Portraiture) Exhibition 2005
2008: Great Atlantic Arwenack Street Gallery, Falmouth: 'The Golden Age of Cornish Art'
2011: Penlee House, Penzance: 'Walter Langley and the Birmingham Boys' 11 June-10 Sept
2022: Penlee House, Penzance: 'Painting Between the Tides - Walter Langley (1852-1922)' 25 May-1 Oct
NSA (Hon Assoc):
Langley RI (1888) ‘Betrayed' Magazine of Art Vol 11 (p 232)
Langley RI (July, 1890) The Edgbastonia Vol X No 110 (includes a pencil sketch by Langley of Pembroke Lodge, Newlyn)
Langley, ed by Knowles (1997) Walter Langley, Pioneer of the Newlyn Art Colony;
Wainwright (1923) ‘The Art of Walter Langley’ (The Clarendon Art Fellowship, April 27 1923, repr in Hardie 2009)
Newlyn Letterbook (2)
Cornish Magazine (1898) Vol I (p 162)
Bednar (3rd edition) Every Corner was a Picture
Cross (2003) The Shining Sands
Dowdeswell Exhibition catalogue (repr Hardie 2009)
Graves RA Dictionary 1769-1904;
Great Atlantic Publications & Clark Art Ltd (2008) the golden age of cornish art
Green (1995) Artists at Home
Hardie (2009) Artists in Newlyn and West Cornwall
Messums Exh Cat (Autumn 2010): High Tide (8 illus)
NAG sales records (repr Hardie 2009)
Newton et al (2005) Painting at the Edge
Notts Exhibition catalogue (repr Hardie 2009)
Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership
RWE Artists from Cornwall Exh Cat (1992) Bristol
Tovey, David (2021) Polperro - Cornwall's Forgotten Art Centre - Volume One - Pre-1920, Wilson Books
Whitechapel Exhibition catalogue (repr in Hardie 2009)
Wallace (2002) Under the Open Sky;
Wood (1995) Victorian Painters (Vol I text, Vol II b&w plate Watching for a Sail)