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Peter Lanyon - Rising air

Peter Lanyon

Rising air

Oil on canvas: 60(h) x 48(w) in / 152.4(h) x 121.9(w) cm
Signed and dated lower centre: Lanyon 61: signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: RISING AIR / Lanyon 61 / GIMPEL

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 St Ives 1918 - 1964 Taunton

Ref: BZ 168


Rising air


Signed and dated lower centre: Lanyon 61: signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: RISING AIR / Lanyon 61 / GIMPEL

Oil on canvas: 60 x 48 in / 152.4 x 121.9 cm

Frame Size: 62 x 50 in / 157.5 x 127 cm





Gimpel Fils, London;

Neiman Marcus Collection, Dallas, acquired from the above in 1961



Anon, ‘British Abstractions’, Time (Atlantic Edition), vol.78, no.7, 18th August 1961, pp.42-8, illus. in colour p.43

John Dalton, ‘Lanyon and Landscape’, The Studio, vol.164, no.835, November 1962, pp.178-81, illus. p.181

Peter Lanyon 1918-1964: Bilder 1960-1964, Gimpel and Hanover Galerie, Zurich, 17th September-17th October 1964, exh. cat., no.3

Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon: His Painting, Aidan Ellis, Henley-on-Thames, 1971, no.166, p.64

Tom Cross, Painting the Warmth of the Sun: St Ives Artists 1935-1975, rev. ed., Halsgrove, Wellington, 2008, p.119

Toby Treves and Barnaby Wright (eds.), ‘Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings: An introduction’, Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, exh. cat., The Courtauld Gallery, London, 2015, pp.20, 23, illus. in colour fig.5, dated 1960

Toby Treves, Peter Lanyon: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings and Three-Dimensional Works, Modern Art Press, London, 2018, p.498, no.485, illus. in colour p.499



Peter Lanyon’s Rising air is a radiant, transcendent work of art belonging to a series of late weather paintings, along with Thermal, 1960, at the Tate and Backing Wind, 1961, in the British Council Collection, which reveal ‘in their titles as much as their imagery a knowledge of the complex system that makes the weather.’[1] Its title refers to the naturally occurring phenomenon during which ‘air is forced upwards by a cliff or ridge, or where thermals, huge bubbles of warm air, rise through the atmosphere with enough force to lift a glider many thousands of feet into the sky. Although the air at the core of a thermal is smooth, that at its periphery is turbulent.’[2] Toby Treves, author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, suggests ‘the marked contrasts in forms, colour, handling and surface’ which distinguish this impressive work, may be intended to evoke the diverging density and quality of air at the core and edge of a thermal. On the left, Lanyon applied the paint wet-in-wet, mixing grey with underlying colours of blue, yellow and green, and on the right, wet-on-dry, varying the translucence and reflectiveness of the surface, its diversely shiny and matt texture (particularly in the central red column), augmented with grit or sawdust.[3] Attuned to the immaterial sphere of the sky, Rising air is thinly painted throughout, revealing areas of canvas below with bold, gestural strokes suggesting continuous movement. Sweeping brushstrokes traverse and abut blocks of vibrant colour in an arresting palette of reds, scarlet, magenta and russet, with flashes of deep blue and green, tempered by swathes of cool white, pale blue and grey.


When Lanyon began flight training at Perranporth Airfield on the north coast of Cornwall in 1959 and completed his first solo flight in a glider in June 1960, ‘he acquired a more sophisticated understanding of the weather. What he had once experienced as a high or strong wind he now understood in terms of convection caused by differences in air pressure and therefore temperature.’[4] The artist wrote to Martin Butlin at the Tate in 1960, ‘I have discovered since I began gliding that the activity is more sensual than I had guessed. The air is a very definite world of activity as complex and demanding as the sea…the thermal itself is a current of hot air rising and eventually condensing into cloud. It is invisible and can only be apprehended by an instrument such as the glider.’[5]


Lanyon had always sought to go beyond the static panorama and single viewpoint of traditional landscape, seeking to represent a more complete and complex experience of his native West Cornwall environment. In exceptional mature works, such as Rising air, Lanyon elevates the genre by suggesting not only a specific place or situation experienced dynamically, but also the process of making the image over time. To this the artist added a biographical or emotional dimension, as Toby Treves explains: ‘Lanyon, whose mature art was more aligned with a tradition of personal disclosure, the territory of the flight and the air was experienced as an echo of the self’, he ‘discovered that a thermal or a flight might be a metaphor for the experiences of life, that the encounter of rough and calm air could be related to the physical and emotional encounter of two people.’[6] With specific reference to Rising air, Treves adds a figurative dimension to his description of the painting, ‘Equally and at the same time, the grey block and red column may suggest two conjoined figures, similar in form to those in Two place.’[7]


On 2nd September 1961, Lanyon was elected Bard of Cornish Gorsedd for his services to Cornish Art. His bardic name was Marghak an Gwyns (Rider of the Wind).




Peter Lanyon, Thermal, 1960                                                Peter Lanyon, Backing Wind, November 1961

Oil on canvas: 72 x 60 in / 182.9 × 152.4 cm                           Oil on canvas: 48 x 60 in / 121.9 x 152.4 CM

Tate                                                                                         British Council Collection




St Ives, Cornwall 1918 – 1964 Taunton


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] Toby Treves and Barnaby Wright (eds.), Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, 2015, op.cit., p.20. Treves and Wright suggest the group has a strong affinity with and may be considered a sub-category of Lanyon’s gliding paintings.

[2] Toby Treves, Peter Lanyon: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings and Three-Dimensional Works, 2018, op.cit., p.498.

[3] Ibid., p.498.

[4] Toby Treves and Barnaby Wright (eds.), Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, op.cit., p.20.

[5] Peter Lanyon to Martin Butlin at the Tate, 28th November 1960, see

[6] Toby Treves and Barnaby Wright, op. cit., p.58.

[7] Toby Treves, op. cit., p.498. ‘In a letter to Peter Gimpel (1 November 1965; Gimpel Fils Archive), the artist’s wife Shelia Lanyon described the painting (Two place) as ‘a portrait of the artist and his mistress at Lulworth, Dorset,’ ibid., p.551.

Other Works By
Peter Lanyon:

Peter Lanyon - Texan Highway