Peter Lanyon - North East

Peter Lanyon

North East

Oil on canvas: 72(h) x 48(w) in /

182.9(h) x 121.9(w) cm

Signed and dated lower right: Lanyon 63; signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: NORTH EAST/Lanyon 63

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BS 207



 St. Ives 1918 – 1964 Taunton


North East


Signed and dated lower right: Lanyon 63; signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: NORTH EAST/Lanyon 63

Oil on canvas: 72 x 48 in / 182.9 x 121.9 cm

Frame size: 74 x 50 in / 188 x 127 cm



The Artist, then by descent

Basil Jacobs, London

Christie’s, 6th November 1998, lot 12

Gimpel Fils, London

Beaux Arts, London, purchased from the above, 2004



New York, Catherine Viviano Gallery, Peter Lanyon, May 1964, cat no.2

Madrid, Museo Municipal, Pintura Británica Conteporáneo, 1965, cat no. 102, the exhibition was organised in partnership by the British Council

London, Tate Gallery, Peter Lanyon, 30th May – 30th June 1968, cat no.83, North East as a part of this exhibition, in association with the Arts Council of Great Britain, was also displayed in:

Plymouth, City Museum and Art Gallery, 13th July – 3rd August 1968

Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, 10th – 31st August 1968

Birmingham, City Museum and Art Gallery, 7th – 28th September 1968

Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 5th – 26th October 1968

Newlyn, Passmore Edwards Art Gallery, 1968

London, Basil Jacobs Gallery, Peter Lanyon: paintings, drawings, gouaches and constructions, 16th November – 11th December 1971, cat no.10

Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, 1978, no.29

Sydney, Art of Man Gallery, 1980, no.5

London, Gimpel Fils, 1998, no.8

London, Gimpel Fils, 2003

London, Beaux Arts, St Ives

London, The Courtauld Gallery, Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, 15th October 2015 – 17th January 2016, cat no.18



Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon, Aidan Ellis Publishing Limited, Henley-on-Thames, 1971, pp. 29-30, no.195, p. 68, pl. 55, illustrated

Toby Treves and Barnaby Wright (eds.), Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, London, The Courtauld Gallery, 2015, no.18, pp.140-141, illustrated

Toby Treves, Peter Lanyon Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings and Three-Dimensional Works, Modern Art Press, London, 2018, no. 543, p.592, illus. in colour p.593







North East is a beautiful, bold and self-assured statement of Lanyon’s confidence as both painter and glider pilot, an intensely personal, but also cartographic expression of the west Cornish landscape. Lanyon had included an almost aerial viewpoint in his work some time before he began gliding in 1959, as he explored his native landscape from every possible perspective. His friend and contemporary, Patrick Heron, explained: ‘landscape for him is something climbed over, trodden on, lain in: something you explore, not by examining it from a single, fixed, static viewpoint with your eyes alone, but by projecting your body across, over, up, into, even under it’.[1] Lanyon himself revealed, ‘The whole purpose of gliding was to get a more complete knowledge of the landscape, and the pictures now combine the elements of land, sea and sky – earth, air and water. I had always watched birds in flight exploring the landscape, moving more freely than man can, but in a glider I was similarly placed’.[2]


For Andrew Causey, the influence and association of constructivism, learnt from some of the most important St Ives based artists of the time, including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo, can be seen in North East, which ‘…shows a reversion to the clear stringency of Gabo. The central three-armed brown feature derived from the sextant in Lanyon’s glider, but its relationship with certain sculptural forms of Gabo, who was originally trained as a mathematician and engineer and was influenced in his own work by the forms of such instruments, is unmistakable. The more faintly drawn blue circles could refer to the curved wires of Gabo’s constructions. The way the thickest leg of the brown object is carried onto the edge of the blue in a thin brown line which then turns into a deeper, broader purple one is a neat piece of pragmatic pictorial engineering.’[3]


For Toby Treves, writing for the Courtauld Institute of Art’s recent Soaring Flight exhibition of Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, ‘A more convincing source for this “feature” is found at the Cornish Gliding Club, sited at Perranporth Airfield on the coast of north east of Penwith – hence the painting’s title. From the air the three landing strips of the airfield form the sides of a clearly defined triangle, similar to the one in the painting, and the main runway goes up to the cliff edge in much the same way as the broadest brown line extends to the blue and stops. The thin red line that issues from this line out over the blue and then turns into purple may be the trajectory of an aircraft launched from the strip as it flies out over the sea. The curves and sharp angles of the purple line are similar to the path of a glider as the pilot settles the aircraft and begins to search for lift…

By 1963 Lanyon was a proficient pilot and his understanding of the land had changed. Instead of being a site threatening catastrophe, it had become the origin of the forces that supported him. Experienced glider pilots read the land not simply for orientation but as a map that indicates where rising air could be. They look for places on the earth’s surface where dark and light meet, as there is likely to be thermic activity there, and for hills and bowls and cliffs facing into the prevailing wind, as air should rise there. It is this understanding of the land as a nurturing realm that is present in the cartographic rendering of North East.

The textured patch of white at the right is almost certainly cloud. It is also the painting’s prime spatial device, establishing through its translucence a sense of great distance between it and the underlying ground. The spiralling lines that centre on the heart of the airstrip may denote the wheeling flight path of a glider in a thermal – the presence of which is indicated by the forming cumulus clouds.’[4]





Wreck, 1963                                                       Heather Coast, 1963

Oil on canvas: 122 x 183 cm                                Oil on canvas: 119.6 x 150 cm

Tate                                                                  The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness


Arts Faculty Mural, 1963

Oil on board: 259 x 513 cm

University of Birmingham










St. Ives, Cornwall 1918 – 1964 Taunton, Somerset



Peter Lanyon was born on the 8th February 1918 in St. Ives, Cornwall, the only son of Herbert Lanyon, a semi-professional musician and photographer.  Following a private education at Clifton College near Bristol, Lanyon enrolled at Penzance School of Art in 1936.  He supplemented this formal training with private lessons under the painter Borlase Smart (1881–1947).  In 1937 he met Adrian Stokes, whose writing and aesthetic theories dramatically affected his work.  After a trip with his mother and sister to South Africa in 1938 and a period of depression, Lanyon enrolled at the Euston Road School in London in May 1939, as advised by Stokes.  Though he stayed for no more than two months, his principal teachers being William Coldstream and Victor Pasmore, he believed the experience was ‘exceedingly good training’. 


Having returned to Cornwall, Lanyon noted the disintegration of his painting in July/August, but was once more aided by Stokes who suggested he take lessons with Ben Nicholson, which began in September 1939.  Receiving direction in formal aspects of abstract composition from a leading figure of British Modernism led Lanyon into experiments with reliefs and constructions, such as his White Track and Box Construction No. 1.  Throughout the 1940s the influence of Nicholson, as well as Naum Gabo and to a lesser extent Barbara Hepworth, was visible in his work.  Lanyon enlisted at the age of twenty and served in the Royal Air Force in North Africa, Palestine and Italy.  In 1946 he married Sheila St. John Browne and they had six children between 1947 and 1957.  After World War II Lanyon was actively involved with the Crypt group and was a founder member of the Penwith School of Art in 1949.


Lanyon had his first one-man exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery in London in 1950 and began teaching at the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, until 1957.  From 1957-60 he ran an art school, St Peter’s Loft at St. Ives with Terry Frost and William Redgrave.  In 1957 he visited New York for a one-man exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, where he met Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. 


Lanyon began gliding in 1959, as he explained ‘to get a more complete knowledge of the landscape’.  The lack of a source of power, other than the natural air currents on which one flies, makes gliding a far more elemental experience than motorised flying.  For Lanyon it was like being a bird; a solitary experience in which one must apply an in depth knowledge of natural phenomena.  This encounter with the movement of air over different types of land and sea, and the “bird’s-eye-view” of topography he came to understand as a result of gliding, was incorporated into his vision as an artist.  It evidently had a great visual impact on his painting and print-making.  Sadly though, what had been a source of creativity for Lanyon also became one of destruction; Lanyon died from injuries incurred in a gliding accident on 31st August 1964 at Taunton. 




[1] Patrick Heron, ‘Peter Lanyon’, Peter Lanyon: Air, Land & Sea, exh cat, The South Bank Centre, London 1992, p.11.

[2] The artist cited in Peter Lanyon, 1968, op. cit., p. 4.

[3] Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon, 1971, op. cit., pp.29-30.

[4] Toby Treves, Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, 2015, op. cit., p. 140.

Post War BritishPeter Lanyon