Hampstead Fine Arts proudly presents “Curious Children”, by Mark William Langlois. A riveting masterpiece set in a lavishly sculpted frame, this piece is both nostalgic and vivid in its depiction of three girls and a boy gathering around a hedgehog that they have, presumably, found in the field that they are standing in. The four children are dressed in the homespun garb traditionally worn in the countryside, and their faces are healthy and glowing with the energy of youth. Their happy, tranquil expressions convey the pleasant, idyllic rural life that Langlois so effectively captures, and they are almost aglow against the backdrop of the rich, dark green trees behind them.
Mark Langlois was born in Newington, Surrey in 1848 – the third of eight children to his parents Frederick Daniel Langlois and Emma Brearey. His father seems to have had a variety of occupations including silversmith, goldsmith, watchmaker and picture dealer. Mark Langlois painted watercolour pictures and this is a typical example of his still life style. He also painted landscapes and genre pictures (ie. figures in rustic poses, etc), but to be honest these are often quite pedestrian. However, this picture is an extremely well painted scene of fruit in front of a brick wall (note the way the moss on the wall is portrayed). At various times, he lived in Hammersmith and Barnes in the London suburbs. He married Sarah Jane Gardiner and had a daughter named Daisy who was born in 1881. Apart from information gleaned from census records, little else is known although he is recorded as exhibiting from 1862 to 1873 at the Royal Academy and elsewhere.
Very little is known about the artist or the provenance of the painting. Langlois is known to have been born in Surrey to a father who engaged in various artistic occupations, such as goldsmith, watchmaker and art dealer. Langlois appears to have achieved some popularity with still life, landscape and genre scenes in watercolour and oil between 1862 and 1873, when he is known to have exhibited at the Royal Academy. There are newspaper reports in the 1870s and 80s of his paintings being auctioned by private collectors, but few merit a specific title, Langlois merely appearing in lists of largely unknown artists whose works were included in the auctions. The titles mentioned suggest the popularity of his figurative work over landscape and still life: Pancake Day was auctioned in Leicester in 1882, Pet Rabbits was auctioned first in Cardiff in 1882 and then again in the same year in Portsmouth. Village School was up for sale in Liverpool in 1888. Today his genre paintings in oil are still the most popular of his works at sales. Since 1987 ninety-seven of his paintings (of which only four are watercolours and two are still life) have been auctioned including, in 2013, a different version of a child drummer at play. This painting imparts a feeling of positivity and optimism to the observer, as well as taking the mind back to happy childhood memories of discovery with siblings, and an age of simple pleasures, now anathema to the modern era. The quality of the oil paints Langlois used is apparent in how well-preserved the colours in this piece are, as well as the artists’ mastery of the contrasts between light and dark, and object and background.