Gimpel Fils, London
Basil Jacobs Fine Art, London
Private Collection, UK
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 17th November 2004, lot 86
Richard Green Gallery, London
Private Collection, UK
London, Gimpel Fils, Peter Lanyon, 17 September – 17 October 1964, cat no.21
London, Gimpel Fils, Peter Lanyon, 11 June – 6 July 1968, cat no.5
Peter Lanyon was one of Britain’s leading Modernist painters and unlike other key figures in the St Ives School he was born and raised in Cornwall. His early paintings, made after 1946, were influenced by the Russian Constructivist Naum Gabo, who lived in St Ives throughout the Second World War. These early works depicted ‘hollowed-out landscapes… a language of enclosure, protection, of uterine forms and central germs’ (Chris Stephens, Peter Lanyon, Tate St Ives, 2010, p12), which in Gabo’s work, could be seen as purely abstract, but for Lanyon also signified the tin-mines of Cornwall and his wife’s pregnancy with their first child. In all of Lanyon’s paintings thereafter one can see an impressive balancing act between abstraction and intensely personal references. He sought to portray not only the sensation of being in the landscape, but to create a complete portrait of a place, encompassing personal and collective history, culture and myth.
The heightened colours and palette of Lanyon's later work signified a move away from the more obviously landscape-oriented work of the 1950s and in 1964 the colouring becomes a particularly noticeable element. His paintings that relate to his Czech trip early in the year set a tone that persists throughout his last pieces, as does the use of collaged elements. The canvases of the period make use of expanded polystyrene, cut, burnt and melted, to give both an expressive surface and an additional spacial dimension.
Lanyon's early death in 1964 makes it only speculative to try to predict what might have been. However, it does seem fair to see within this change of manner and palette that Lanyon was responding to the work of another younger generation of painters and indeed a lightening of British society generally.
In 1963-4 Lanyon’s work underwent dramatic changes in terms of colour and surface texture, affected by his visits to Texas, Mexico and Czechoslovakia. His interest in and use of photography and his love of gliding also influenced his distinctive perspective. While exciting innovations in Lanyon’s later work are undeniable, his devotion to the Cornish landscape never waned.
‘I was fascinated by the boulders that I saw in the fields on the edge of the coast near Zennor. A close-up detail of them tells you a lot about the landscape – it shows the way the granite has been weathered by centuries of wind. Rocks and boulders are for me stones with human history and meaning’ (Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon, Henley-on-Thames, 1971, p. 18).