Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, South East England: Artists and Subjects 26 Further information sought on the artist Robert Langley

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Topic: Artist

Another painting apparently by this artist (in private hands) clearly signed and dated 'R. Langley 1851', has turned up; it appears to show an assembly of vessels – sail and steam – about to sail on one of the Franklin search expeditions. The artist does not seem to be listed by Graves as an exhibitor in the principal London exhibitions and, other than in reference to this one of Windsor, he does not seem to have left any mark on the web. Can anyone add anything more on him?

The Government Art Collection have looked into this and are not able to add any further information on the artist's biography.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade King,

This painting is now listed by Richard Langley (1808–1878), 'Windsor Great Park: View of the Long Walk', dated c.1835.


These amends will appear on the Art UK website in due course. Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

25 comments

Joachim Gardiner,

This painting looks very similar to Robert Seldon Duncanson pieces. Its worth looking into.

Thank you, but given that Duncanson was an American painter of the Hudson River luminist school any such similarity can only be considered coincidental unless/until specific factual information on Langley emerges to show such associations. At present the two subjects known suggest he is British.

Osmund Bullock,

Presumably the same artist as this: http://www.bridgemanimages.com/en-GB/asset/704135/

No further info there, however. I did a quick search of the 1851 Census the other day, but nobody leapt out. I will do a more careful one later this week, and extend it to adjacent censuses (and other genealogical / general biographical sources).

Andrea Kollmann,

There is a bit more about him on the collection's website:
"Although described in Algernon Graves’ ‘Dictionary of Artists’ (1901) as a painter of ‘fruit’, Robert Langley also produced landscapes. He exhibited his work between 1834 and 1845 at the Royal Academy (1 work), the British Institution (2 works) and the Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street (2 works). In 1834 he was living in Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico. By 1845 he had moved to Aldenham Street, Somers Town."
http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk/work.aspx?obj=24825

Osmund Bullock,

Perhaps not, Oliver, as I think his name was actually Richard!

Thanks to Andrea pointing out the further detail on the GAC website, I was able to track him down through the addresses given. I had wondered about the first name, as only the first initial seemed certain to me: the 1851 work mentioned by Pieter does not have a full first name, and in both Graves's "Dictionary of Artists..." (1884 & 1895 editions) and his Royal Academy Exhibitors, he is listed only as 'R. Langley'. See: https://archive.org/stream/dictionaryofarti00grav#page/165/mode/1up and https://archive.org/stream/royalacademyofar04grav#page/383/mode/1up .
The GAC and Rome (Bridgeman) paintings are firmly listed as 'Robert', but I don't know on what authority. It would be nice if the GAC could check the signature, but as the picture is in Strasbourg that won't be easy - perhaps they or the PCF have a high-res image that shows it?

I have a lot more to share, but need to write it up (which I can't till later this evening). But it seems certain it is the right man, as both exhibitor addresses match listings for Richard Langley in 1838 & 1841, and two later censuses (when he had moved to Barnsbury-Islington) give his occupation as 'Landscape Painter'. He died early in 1878 aged 70, which concurs with census ages implying a birth year of c1807-8.

This could well be him, too: http://www.worldcat.org/title/farewell-to-life-or-lyrical-reminiscences-of-british-peers-in-art-with-a-biographical-sketch-of-p-nasmyth

Osmund Bullock,

Right, here goes. Since we are (or at least I am) suggesting a significant change to the information currently held by the Collection and others, this will have to be a fullish exposition. I will describe what is in the various relevant census, baptism, etc entries, but I think not post images of the documents at this stage. If the Collection or anyone else wishes to see them, I can send a pdf of everything that matters.

Although the first name is given as Robert, I have been unable to find anything to support this. The Witt checklist mentions one small file each for ‘Langley, Richard – op. c1873-74’ and ‘Langley, Robert – op. 1841’ – I will try and get to the Witt sometime to find out more, but either could be him, and possibly both. Graves and Christopher Wood (Victorian Artists) have him as just “R Langley”; and while the Gorringes picture that Oliver found could conceivably be an earlier work by such a person, the catalogue suggests the reading of the signature is uncertain, and we have to put it to one side. With so few works identified we should perhaps be looking for a part-time artist; it is unsurprising that no-one has bothered to get to grips with him before.

It’s important to find out exactly how the work under discussion is signed, and/or if the Collection has any reason other than the Witt reference for attributing it to ‘Robert’ Langley. Could we see a high-res of the bottom right corner, assuming the signature hasn’t been cut off? My suspicion is that, like the other (1851) work mentioned by Pieter, what it says is “R. Langley” – if no better image is available, we could ask the UK Delegation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to take a look. I note, too, that the picture came from Agnew’s in 1974 – if their records are now accessible at the Nat Gall Archive, perhaps there may be something there. The same goes for the painting apparently in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. I will write them a schoolboy-Italian email shortly about it soon, unless someone else who speaks it better wants to volunteer! Meanwhile I have proceeded on the assumption that ‘Robert’ is unsafe, and all we really have is an ‘R’ initial.

The further detail on the GAC website gives us two clues, and following them up we have an address for him in 1845, when he exhibited one work each at the BI and the SBA (both ‘Fruit’), and two at the RA (‘Fruit’ & ‘Sheep in a Stable’ - Graves missed the second) – the address is the same, 54 Aldenham Street, Clarendon Sq (in Somers Town, St Pancras). He also exhibited a landscape at the BI in 1834, but there’s no address given. However, the SBA provides this with an exhibit the same year (‘Cottage Scene’) sent from 71 Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico.

There is no sign of a Robert Langley at either address at the relevant times, or anywhere else nearby - but there was a Richard Langley, aged 32, and family living at Aldenham St in 1841, profession ‘General P(ost) O(ffice) Sorter’. Following him through, he moves to Stanmore St, Barnsbury (Islington) by 1851 (GPO sorter aged 43 born Westminster), then 10 mins up the Caledonian Road to Blundell St by 1861. In 1861 & then 1871 his age and birthplace remain consistent, but he’s now actually described as ‘Landscape Painter’. There’s no sign of him in 1881, but almost certainly the same man’s death, aged 70, is registered at Islington in 1878 (first quarter). No will is recorded.

In the next instalment I will return to 1834 and Vauxhall Bridge Road, and then right back to his birth and parentage. I will also describe sad family circumstances that perhaps explain why he did not persevere with his (quite impressive) painting skills while he was young enough to make a real go of it, and why there is such a big gap in his exhibiting record.

Osmund Bullock,

Though 1834 is before surviving census records begin, in the Westminster Rate Books for the period I found some promising Langleys in Vauxhall Bridge Road. From 1832-1837 a James Langley appears there, overlapping with a John Langley in 1834-38, and finally a Richard Langley in 1838. The situation is confusing, as from the neighbours’ names all entries seem to relate to the same house (though no street number is given) – but as we shall see, Richard did have brothers called James and John. The definitive proof that it is the same man will come shortly.

The censuses and death index suggest Richard Langley was born in Westminster c1808 – and indeed there is an entry in the registers for St Margaret’s Westminster for Richard Langley, son of John & Ann, baptised Feb 1808, born 5th Jan. St Margaret’s also records the marriage of John & Ann (Abram) in July 1804, and the births of five other children to them between 1805 and 1818, including John (Mar 1805) & James (May 1814). The last two entries (1816-18) are in the new format book, which usefully further records that Richard’s father John (d 1846) was a butcher, then living in Palmer’s Village – an extraordinary, quasi-rural hamlet in Westminster that survived largely intact until swept away by the new Victoria Street in the 1840s.

Richard’s marriage to Sophia Julia Griffiths is duly recorded at St Margaret in Dec 1835, followed by the baptisms of their first two children Julia (Feb 1837) and Sophia (Jun 1839). These again record Richard’s profession (‘General Postman’ & ‘Sorter in General Post Office’ respectively) and, crucially, his address: Vauxhall Bridge Road, with the street number 71 given in the second – the same as the SBA’s 1834 address for ‘R. Langley’. So both exhibition addresses tie up perfectly, and his profession in 1861 & 1871 is ‘Landscape Painter’.

I believe that Richard Langley, 1808-1878, is unquestionably our man.

Government Art Collection,

Thank you so much for all the information you have very generously shared with us. I would be very interested to see the documents which you mention and would be grateful if you could please email them to me at laura.popoviciu@culture.gov.uk.

Unfortunately, we do not have a high resolution image of the painting, but I had a look at the transparency and could see the signature at bottom right. Once I have a scan of the transparency, I will send it to you. The painting is signed 'R Langley' and there is something else underneath which I was not able to identify from the transparency.

Also, the folders in the Witt contain one image for each artist (Robert and Richard). I attach the images below.

2 attachments
Osmund Bullock,

Hugely helpful responses, GAC, and I’m glad the guess about the signature was right. Thank you, too, for those images of the Witt files. They’re not too clear, and I can’t make out any signatures, but I suspect that if the dates for the Shropshire ones are right (1873-74), they are a red herring. But the one dated 1841 of Bembridge – very similar in size to this one – looks promising: I’m going to try and track down the Apollo issue (May 1974) that contained the image, in case it’s good enough to see a signature. The company that advertised it, H.S. Wellby, is unfortunately no longer in business. I’m beginning to wonder if it is in fact the ultimate – in fact, only – source for the name Robert.

After seeing the signature – I’m attaching a tweaked image that perhaps shows it up slightly more – I am now having a re-think about Oliver’s find at Gorringe’s. On looking very carefully (another tweaked image attached) it looks like it, too, is signed “R. Langle(y)”, and in a similar script. I would certainly accept it as a possible earlier work by the same man. I don’t think it can be Rochester Castle, the structure, situation and surroundings are quite wrong – I’ve no idea where it is, though...possibly imaginary. A decent composition, even if the detail is unskilled.

Laura, I’ll send you the document images soon. I suppose we should recognise that, although it seems certain that the “R. Langley” who exhibited in 1834 & 1845 is my Richard Langley, we can’t really prove that he is your “R. Langley”. However, in the absence of a suitable Robert, I think it’s a pretty good circumstantial case. The rest of the story I was going to post (and probably still will) doesn’t really add any real evidence, I’m afraid, only supposition.

Oh, one thing - this is not the Broad Walk, it is the LONG Walk, Windsor Great Park. The viewpoint is near the equestrian statue of George III on Snow Hill, 2½ miles and more from the Castle (though Langley has cheated it much closer, to good effect). There are many photos of this view online, but surprisingly few good artworks. There is a (correctly titled) William Daniell aquatint actually in the GAC collection: http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk/work.aspx?obj=12741 (the original was recently sold at auction). And this is a rather nice 1830s oil by Wm Havell: http://www.johnbennettfinepaintings.co.uk/fine-art/d/the-long-walk-windsor-great-park-/125886# . I don’t think the composition is as impressive as Langley’s though.

Osmund Bullock,

I might point out that at least two of the foreground figures in this view appear to be artists with portfolio folders - a sketching party, in fact...perhaps the artist and his family and friends?

Thanks for that impressive exegesis Osmund, and the other inputs: the only thing you didn't quite elucidate is something about 'sad' circumstances (?). This one is not maritime so not mine to wind up, but it does seem one of those cases where it would be useful to 'pot' a short dictionary-type new biography rather than just report a discussion....

Osmund Bullock,

I know, Pieter, I've unintentionally been a bit of a tease. However, while the bare bones of the fuller story are true enough, and interesting in themselves, my imagination has (as is my wont) probably run too far with it. I will post anyway when I get a moment - I hope next week. But none of it really moves the strictly evidential case forward, if I'm being honest.

An interesting question, actually: to what extent does conjecture, however logical, have a place in art history? Discuss.

Osmund Bullock,

Richard Langley’s employment by the GPO is recorded in the Postal Service Appointment Books. He was appointed in March 1835, initially as a General Post Letter Carrier, on the recommendation of Clayton Freeling - interesting in itself as Freeling (his nakedly nepotistic father Sir Francis Freeling actually ran the Post Office) was the man who just the previous year had also recommended Anthony Trollope for his position in the GPO. 1835 was the year of Langley’s marriage, and the year after his first burst of exhibiting: the need for, and successful acquisition of a steady income presumably enabled the former, and may have truncated the latter. But he clearly continued painting thereafter, as and when he could: I would say that the GAC Windsor painting dates from the late 1830s, the Bembridge view (if his) is 1841, the family group now in Rome (quite possibly his own family) looks to be early/mid-1840s, and there is Pieter’s one dated 1851. And of course he exhibited again in 1845.

But things must have become harder with the birth of two more children in 1840 and 1842, his sons Griffiths and Richard - and even more so when at around this time his second daughter Sophia developed epilepsy, which later censuses reveal she’d had “since childhood” (and which must have been quite severe, as we shall see). As if that were not enough, Richard’s wife Sophia died in the summer of 1854, aged 46, when the children were aged between 11 and 17. By the 1861 Census Richard no longer mentioned the post office - did he lose his job, perhaps, or even have to resign it (and lose his pension) to stay at home and look after the children? The youngest, Richard junr, had left home - in April 1859, aged 16 and likely of financial necessity, he had signed up for the Royal Navy until his 28th birthday. I can find no further trace of him. The eldest daughter, Julia, had gone off to become a governess to a large family in Kentish Town - in later years (she died in 1913), living on an annuity from the Governesses’ Benevolent Institution, she rather pathetically claimed to have been born in ‘South Belgravia’ (rather than the much humbler Pimlico), and to have worked “... in the families of noblemen and gentlemen” (rather than the very middle-class employers who were the reality). Meanwhile Sophia was still living with her father, earning something as a dress maker, and so was his elder son Griffiths, who seems to have had a decent job as a solicitor’s clerk. But it was not to last: a few months later, in Oct 1861, Griffiths, in “distress”, was admitted (from his father’s address) to Islington Workhouse. Adjudged not able-bodied, he nevertheless discharged himself three weeks later with a grant of one shilling - and died early the following year, aged 21.

By 1866 Sophia seems to have tried to move out, but like her brother ended up in the (St Pancras) Workhouse. By 1871 she had returned to live with her father in Islington, but after his death in 1878 poverty and ill-health continued their grim progress: in 1881 she was a patient in the Queen Square Hospital for the Paralysed & Epileptic, and in 1883-84 she spent Christmas and New Year in the Infirmary of the Islington Workhouse - perhaps the elderly nurse who we find living with and caring for her in 1891 had gone home for the holidays, and there was no alternative. Sophia died in 1910.

So there it is: an all-too-typical story of Victorian hard times. Richard Langley at least seems to have avoided another occasional hazard for struggling C19th artists - the debtor’s prison where three other decent ones I’ve researched ended up. Without patronage or some family money (Richard’s butcher father ended his days in an almshouse), the life of an artist without some stunning natural gift must have been very, very hard. It takes little to imagine how Langley’s circumstances would have left little time or energy to focus on his art, and that the talent evident in our painting would never have been properly developed, let alone appreciated. I will spare you a quote from Gray’s Elegy, but it comes to mind...

Having started this one, with Osmunfd thereafter making most of the running (to general admiration I hope) could we call a halt?

As a final contribution here is a 'potted biography' based on the above, which I hope fully and accurately abstracts the essential story for general consumption by anyone interested:

RICHARD LANGLEY, post office worker and painter, 1808–78

Exh. 1834 and 1845 (1834, BI 1, SBA 1: 1845, BI 1, SBA 1, RA 2)

Langley (hitherto wrongly called Robert) was born in Westminster on 5 January 1808 and baptised at St Margaret’s in February. He was a younger son of John, a local butcher (d. 1846, in a Westminster almshouse) and his wife Ann (Abram) who married in that church in 1804 and had at least five children, 1805–18. How he became a painter is not known but he first exhibited in 1834 at the SBA (‘Cottage Scene’) and BI (‘Landscape’), his address then being 71 Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico. In March 1835 he was appointed a ‘General Post Office letter carrier’ – a postman – and in December that year at St Margaret’s married Sophia Julia Griffiths, where the baptisms of their first two children, Julia (Feb. 1837) and Sophia (Jun. 1839), also occurred. The latter developed epilepsy in childhood which became more severe later. The registry entry for her shows he had then advanced to GPO letter sorter. The family were living at 54 Aldenham Street, Clarendon Square, Somers Town by 1841, the address from which, in 1845, he showed a ‘Fruit’ painting at both the BI and SBA, and another plus ‘Sheep in a Stable’ at the RA (the last being accidentally omitted in Graves’s 1904 listing). Two sons, Griffiths and Richard, were born in 1840 and 1842. By 1851 the Langleys moved to Stanmore Street, Barnsbury, Islington, but Langley’s wife died in 1854. In 1859 Richard junior joined the navy and Julia (d.1913) had also left home to become a governess. At the 1861 and 1871 censuses, Langley was living at Blundell Street, Islington, and had left the Post Office since his occupation is given as ‘landscape painter’ in both. His daughter Sophia, working as a dressmaker, and son Griffiths, a solicitor’s clerk, were living with him in 1861. The latter lost the position soon after and in October that year spent three weeks in the Islington workhouse: he died aged 21 early in 1862. By 1866 the epileptic Sophia seems to have tried to move out, but like her brother ended up in the (St Pancras) workhouse. By 1871 she had returned to live with her father but, after his death in Islington in the first quarter of 1878, spent her life in poverty and nursing care of a basic sort, including spells in hospital and the Islington Workhouse. She died in 1910.

The only paintings by Langley yet known in public hands are that in the Government Art Collection of ‘Windsor Castle, View of the Long Walk’ (with figures including artists shown and signed ‘R. Langley’) and’ ‘A Victorian family in a garden’ in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Rome. The latest-dated picture so far noted (on which the private owner sought information from the NMM, Greenwich, 2015) is signed ‘R. Langley 1851’ and shows naval sail and steam vessels, possibly about to sail on one of the Franklin search expeditions. Langley seems to have only been a full-time painter in later life, and – barring a remarkable name coincidence – may also have ventured into late print: in the year of his death (1878) there appeared, by a Richard Langley, Farewell to Life; or, lyrical reminiscences of British peers in art. With a biographical sketch of ... P[atrick] Nasmyth. Nasmyth, called the ‘British Hobbema’ as a landscape painter, died in Lambeth, London, in 1831 and was one of the founders of the SBA (1823), so it is possible that Langley knew him when young as well as admiring his work. [Draft as at 16 Dec. 2015]

Osmund Bullock,

Pieter, thank you: that seems admirably lucid and complete. Do you think it might be worth adding an approximate date for the Windsor painting, which the clothing of the figures, male and female, suggests is mid/late 1830s - or is that too conjectural? I had hoped to go and read the 'Farewell to Life...' book at the BL, write to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna to check how their one is signed, and also to try and find a better image of the 1841 Bembridge view advertisement. But very difficult family circumstances have arisen for me in France, and I shall probably be unable to contribute to the forum again until well into the New Year. I may not be able to collate and send the supporting documents to the GAC before then, either - sorry, Laura.

I wish you all a splendid Christmas, and a fine, fruitful and healthy 2016.

Thanks Osmund: I don't disagree with an 1830s date for the Windsor picture, but -if others agree - will leave it for anyone saving the text to include [e.g. as ....‘Windsor Castle, View of the Long Walk’ (with figures including artists shown, signed ‘R. Langley’ and probably from the mid/late 1830s) and....] I also meant to put single quotes round the book title as the PCF system auto-converted my italic to roman. Sorry to hear of your problems but I hope you can still enjoy the seasonal cheer and that 2016 will be an upward curve.

Can we now wind this one up please, inc confirmation of the fact that it appears to be the Long Walk?

Osmund Bullock,

I have written an email, translated by an Italian friend, to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, asking them how their Langley painting is signed (and other info they may hold on it). However, the curatorial staff are apparently on their Christmas holiday until next Wednesday.

Could we delay closing the discussion for a couple of weeks to give them a chance to reply?

Perhaps we could ask the GAC to amend the artist's name and dates, as above, and wind this up, noting Osmund's suggestion for date of their Windsor picture and the biographical summary.If anything comes back from his enquiry to Italy it's unlikely to add more than an date for the picture there.

Osmund Bullock,

They need to amend the title, too, of course.

My apologies, I should have posted before now with later news, though it adds little. I heard back from the Gall. Naz. d'Arte Mod. in Rome: the picture (which is actually in a delightful small museum that houses the collection of the late Mario Praz in his former home) is dated 1845, but is signed "C J Langley", not 'R' (see attached 1). That may well be a misreading of 'C D Langley', for Charles Dickinson Langley, a close contemporary of Richard, Bedford-born but peripatetic and quite a decent painter of portraits, animals, game still-lifes, often in a landscape - see http://artuk.org/discover/artists/langley-charles-dickinson-17991873 and many others findable online, such as: http://artsalesindex.artinfo.com/auctions/Charles-Dickinson-Langley-5319985/ C D Langley was actually probably born in late 1800, not 1799, but that's for another discussion.

Back to Richard Langley. The Bembridge landscape illustrated in an Apollo ad in 1974 (better images attached 2 & 3) is indeed most probably by him. Clearly the same picture (though unillustrated) was sold at Christie's in 1997, and in fact it is also just signed 'R Langley' - the 'Robert' was probably an invention by the dealer, H S Wellby, and I would guess the original source of the whole Robert idea. See: http://www.invaluable.co.uk/auction-lot/english-school,-19th-century-64-c-ykgbwpqb3g
Which leaves us with only three works by Richard Langley so far identified, plus perhaps the third (?)earlier one called "Rochester Castle".

I've also looked at the 1878 book, "Farewell to Life" at the BL. It doesn't help much, it's mainly awful poems; however, the language used by Langley "...in praise of the perfection of British landscape scenery..." in his preface of Nov 1877, and the statement there that he was approaching his allotted lifespan (he was just two months shy of 70), fit very well with our artist. I feel sure it's by him. I doubt he personally knew Patrick Nasmyth, who died three years before Langley first exhibited at the SBA in 1834, and Langley's biography of the man mentions no meeting. But Nasmyth's work was much exhibited at Suffolk St in the years following his death, and Langley would have hung alongside him, at least metaphorically. Langley's biographical knowledge of his fellow artist stemmed, he freely confesses, from his acquaintance with Nasmyth's framer and close friend, William Harrison. He writes of Nasmyth's early death being "almost a public calamity"; and one suspects it was a private one for Langley himself. He doubtless desperately hoped he'd meet his artistic hero through Harrison at some stage, poor man - the first of so many sadnesses in his life. See attachment 4 for some pages from the book.

That is all I have. I'll try and send the long-promised pdf of all the necessary evidence to the GAC later this week.

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, the view called Rochester Castle, if by him, would be the fourth identified, not the third, along with Windsor c1835, Bembridge 1841 and the (?)Franklin search naval vessels of 1851.

Government Art Collection,

Thank you very much indeed Osmund for all the information and documents which you have sent. I am very grateful for your input which has hugely helped to clarify the attribution, date and title of this painting.

Also, thank you very much for your help Pieter and for sending the biographical details. We will amend the record and the new information will appear when the next update of our website takes place.

With many thanks and best wishes,

Laura