Description: signed l.r.: W. Langley watercolour
Dimensions: 96.5 by 62 cm. ; 38 by 24 1/2 in.
Exhibited: Liverpool Water Colour Society, 1900;
Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, 1900, no. 1;
Berwick Club, 1903;
Exeter Museum and Art Gallery, and Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Walter Langley 1852-1922, no. 33
Literature: Roger Langley, Walter Langley R.I. 1852-1922; Pioneer of the Newlyn Art Colony, 1997, pg. 168
Provenance: Liverpool, Dicksee & Co, 1900;
Notes: No other artist of the Newlyn colony came close to matching Langley for his technical dexterity with watercolour. His ability to convey mood and sentiment through the gestures of the figures and the positioning of symbolic domestic items, was as good as Stanhope Forbes, who clearly influenced Langley's work.
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Langley's subjects of lonely young widows, melancholic grand-mothers and weary old sea dogs, are typical of his better known pictures, such as Never Morning Wore to Evening, But Some Heart did not Break of 1894 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) and Among the Missing of 1884 (present whereabouts unknown). However, his paintings did not always depict the gloomier side of life, as the present watercolour testifies. His fisherfolk are depicted in humble costumes and domestic interiors, noble and proud people who work hard and have deep wells of emotion. The young mother is contentedly darning socks whilst her husband is out at sea and for a moment she stops from her sewing to consider the future before her sleeping infant.
A comparative watercolour of c1889, is that which has been tentatively titled Woman by A Cottage Door, which depicts a young woman gazing out to sea through an open doorway, searching for her husband's boat on the horizon. A sleeping infant in a hand-made wooden cradle links the two pictures and emphasises the role of the Cornish men in the Newlyn communities; a hazardous life which took them away from their wives and children, sometimes permanently. This is made clear in Langley's watercolour of 1882 But Men Must Work and Women Must Weep, Though Storms be Sudden and Waters Deep, And the Harbour Bar be Moaning (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) his first Royal Institution exhibit.
Langley's son John was born on the 19th September 1898 and although he was a little older than the child in Motherhood by the time of the watercolour's execution, the renewed experience of a young child being in the Langley household, must have effected the choice of subject, which is tenderly portrayed.