Genre paintings are not normally selected as my Painting of the Month but I was reminded the other day of this glorious scene from the 1880s. Watercolour is also not to be found in my selections normally so this is a ‘double first’.
In a Cornish Fishing Village – Departure of the Fleet for the North, is quite a title for this, full of emotion, watercolour of 1886, to be found in the Penlee House Gallery in Penzance. But it is in his complex titles that Langley emphasised the hardships and poverty of the lives of the people of Newlyn. The panoramic scene shows the departing fishing fleet on the horizon as a backscene to the intricately set group on the quayside. Those left behind. Does the central figure with the glass viewing the fleet feel he is in the wrong place? The groups of women feature strongly in Langley’s works; often older sages with young fanciful girls.
The Newlyn colony of artists sprung up around the Cornish fishing village in the late nineteenth century. Most were incomers but they had studied and in many cases lived in Europe. Walter Langley from Birmingham and, the Irishman, Stanhope Forbes, were perhaps the two most accomplished Newlyners but the whole colony created a special British Art with a European flavour. Unlike the abstract emphasis of the St Ives School of the twentieth century the modernism created by the Newlyn group was of social comment through figurative and genre works.
This painting was awarded a gold medal in Chicago and saw Langley as an exponent in portraying the struggle for existence, while also seeing the social impact. Every time I see Langleys paintings I feel like a voyeur to some event I know very little about but at the same time feel drawn into the scene.
If you also sense this look out other Walter Langley works such as Breadwinners, 1896, or the tragic, Among the Missing, Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village, 1884, also to be found in the Penlee Hoùse Gallery.
Copyright Penlee House Gallery and Museum