Walter Langley, the Newlyn school painter, is most highly regarded for his watercolours with their dedicated depiction of the fisherfolk of Newlyn. He is also credited as being the founder of the artistic community at Newlyn. He grew up in Birmingham, the son of a tailor, where he was apprenticed as a lithographer. He was elected to the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and was instrumental in the foundation of the Birmingham Art Circle in 1881. In the same year he made a short trip to Brittany, and after visiting Newlyn in 1880, he settled there in 1882.
By living and painting in Newlyn he demonstrated his deep understanding of the role of women in the fishing community. The intimate, domestic subject matter chosen by many Hague school watercolourists would also have influenced Langley as a student at the South Kensington Schools in the early 1870s. Langley championed watercolour, a medium which he mastered and exhibited at the Royal Institute between 1883 and 1891. Roger Langley, the artist's grandson, explains this passion: 'A major difference between Langley and his fellow artists at that time was that he painted only occasionally in oils and never exhibited in the medium, while they, in the main, gave watercolours a wide berth ... Langley's preference for watercolours may seem to have placed him at a disadvantage when the pre-eminent artistic body of his day, the Royal Academy, made little secret of its disdain for the medium' (op. cit. pp.69-70). The artist William Wainwright, who at one time shared a studio with Langley, commented in 1923 on his choice of watercolour as his primary medium: 'To a person of Langley's sensibility this could not be a matter of indifference and I am inclined to see in that decision a distinct choice formed by personal preference and artistic conviction that for him it was the medium in which he could reach his highest expression'.
The present picture which has not been seen publicly since 1908, belongs to a series of large watercolours of Newlyn executed between 1884-86. The other two works from the series, In a Cornish Fishing Village - Departure of the Fleet for the North (Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance) and Among the Missing, a Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village (Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance), were sold by Christie's in London on 6 June 1991 and 12 June 1998 respectively, when Among the Missing (fig.1) realised 65,300, the current world record for the artist's work at auction. Roger Langley (op. cit., p.59) particularly relates the present work to In a Cornish Fishing Village (1886), comparing the girl with pink blouse and woollen headscarf and the poses of the old lady and young girl at the far right in both compositions.
The Art Journal's review of the Autumn 1885 exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours 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'.
Fig.1 Walter Langley, Among the Missing - A Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village. Watercolour, 40 x 27 in. 1884. Sold by Christie's in London for 65,300 on 12 June 1998, lot 66.