My Daily Art Display today features an extremely moving picture which has the very long title Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break. The painting was completed by the English artist Walter Langley in 1894. The painting today, as was the painting yesterday, is about loss. The title of the painting emanates from Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam, one verse of which reads:
That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break
Walter Langley was born in 1852 in Birmingham. His father, William, was a tailor and Walter was one of eleven children brought up in an area close to the inner-city, poverty-stricken slums of one of England’s largest Victorian cities. At the age of fifteen he was taken on as an apprentice lithographer and six years later he managed to gain a scholarship to South Kensington where he studied design for two years. In 1876 Langley married Clara Perkins. The couple went off to Whitby on their honeymoon which was a favourite hangout of Victorian artists and this was Langley`s first encounter with a working fishing village. In 1881 he returned to Birmingham and at the age of twenty-nine he was elected an Associate of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, which had been established in the early nineteenth century
His lithography work was starting to dry up and this coupled with the news that his wife was expecting twins forced him to make a choice between continuing to be a full-time lithographer or concentrate all his efforts into his painting. Langley`s growing commercial success as an artist made the decision easier for him to make as he knew he needed the money to support his rapidly increasing family..
He had visited the Cornish fishing port of Newlyn before and was very impressed with the surrounding area and in July 1881 he returned. This time he went there with a commission for 20 paintings from an important Birmingham patron, Edwin Chamberlain. As the year came to close he received a further remarkable commission from the Birmingham art dealer JW Thrupp, acting on behalf of the Alldays family, of 500 pounds for a year`s paintings in Newlyn. The year of 1881 was a great year for the artist and his family with the commercial success of his paintings which far outshone anything he could have hoped to earn as a lithographer in Birmingham. In 1882 he and his family moved permanently to the Cornish fishing port of Newlyn which was to become a haven for artists. The Newlyn School was the term used to describe this new art colony that was based around the fishing port and in some ways mirrored the artist colony based on the outskirts of Paris, known as the Barbizon School. Artists from both schools were associated with en plein air painting. Although Langley was not the first artist to move and settle in Newlyn, he is largely credited with being the Pioneer of the Newlyn Art Colony and this “title” was engraved on his tombstone in Penzance.
Having been brought up close to the poverty of slum life he was a great supporter of left-wing politics and was a follower of the left wing radical Charles Bradlaugh, the great advocate of trade unionism. Many of his paintings were of the social realist genre depicting working class folk and their struggle for survival. Some of his paintings highlight the empathy he had for the hard-working fishermen and their families amongst whom he lived, no more so than today’s featured painting, Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break. Before us we see an old woman comforting a younger one. Her arm is wrapped around the young woman’s shoulder who holds her head in her hands and cries over a fisherman who never made it back home. Look how the artist shows the moonlight dancing over the ripples of the sea.
This turmoil of human emotions is in direct contrast to the flat calm sea we can observe in the background of the painting. It is the calm after the storm which has taken the life of the young woman’s beloved. This is a very emotional painting and “speaks” more than any words could possibly do. It succinctly illustrates the tragedies which can befall the family of working-class fishermen as they battle against all weathers simply to put food on the family table.