Alan Wheatley Art

Peter Lanyon Artist Biography  British, 1918-1964

Peter Lanyon is identified most consistently as a landscape painter, yet he produced prints, made pots, murals and stained glass works, he created sculptures and constructions, and he taught. And in fact the term ‘landscape painter’ hardly does justice: as commonly understood, ‘landscape’ suggests natural forms, and works created by such an artist are often expected to canvas an arrangement of such forms into easily comprehended compositions. ‘Landscape’, for Lanyon, meant more than natural forms: his paintings explore both the natural and the man made, the historical and the contemporary. And Lanyon’s paintings are not conventionally composed, nor easily comprehended. Whilst their colours often make a direct reference to the land, their shapes are made semi-abstract or abstract, perspective might be head-on or from above, and content is not always easily discerned.

Lanyon was born in St. Ives, Cornwall. After school he took painting lessons from Borlase Smart, a well respected art teacher and academic painter. He attended Penzance School of Art before moving to the Euston Road School of Art, London, where he was taught by Victor Pasmore. On his return to St. Ives he met Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo - all three of whom had departed London to escape the war, and it was around these artists that the St. Ives School, with Lanyon amongst them, would cohere.

Lanyon’s first one-man exhibition was at the Gimpel Fils in London, 1949. Regular exhibitions there would follow in the fifties, and Lanyon also participated in group shows with the Arts Council and the British Council.

In the late fifties Lanyon visited New York for an exhibition of his works at the Catherine Viviano Gallery. Subsequent exhibitions through the next decade would take place here, but in New York Lanyon also met and befriended Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell, both of whom would make visits to St. Ives. His work in England was at this juncture meeting with critical success: he won the Critics’ Prize in 1954; second prize in the John Moores exhibition (1959) and the Marzzotto acquisition award (1962), but actual sales were slow. All the more welcome, therefore, his relative success in the US, and sales there allowed Lanyon to pursue an interest in flying.  

Lanyon obtained his pilot licence and took up glider flying, and the paintings which resulted - his ‘gliding’ pictures - allude to the experience of looking down upon a patchwork of land below. He gained a more complete understanding of landscape, but his source of inspiration also become one of destruction as Lanyon sustained critical injuries as a result of a flying accident, and at the age of only 46, on August 31st, 1964, he died.

Public collections include:
Australia

Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Canada
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Czech Republic
Narodni Gallery, Prague

Portugal
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon

United Kingdom
Arts Council of Great Britain, London
Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast
British Council, London
Cecil Higgins Museum, Bedford
City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham
City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth
Contemporary Art Society, London
Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull
Friends of Bristol Art Gallery, Dyer Bequest Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea
Norfolk Contemporary Art Society
Peter Stuyvesant Foundation, London
Pier Gallery, Orkney
Portsmouth Education Committee
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth
Tate, London
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

USA
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh
Cleveland Museum of Art
Princeton University, Art Museum
Smith College Museum of Art, Massachusetts
Yale University Art Gallery

< back to Artists