Historical Portraits Picture Archive

'Intruder', 1947 

Peter Lanyon (1918-64)

'Intruder', 1947, Peter Lanyon
Oil on Panel
20th Century
8 x 10 in (20 x 25.5cm)
Betty Nagelschmidt, 1947; Lucy White, 1999; Sotheby’s, 21 June 2000, lot 72, as ‘Horse in the Road’; Coughton Galleries, Market Harborough.
St. Ives, Cornwall, Crypt of the New Gallery, ‘Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures: Sven Berlin, Peter Lanyon, W. Barns-Graham, John Wells; Recent Printings by Guido Morris’, 1947, no. 57
To view portraits currently for sale at Philip Mould & Co, please go to www.philipmould.com.

We are grateful to Toby Treves, author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonne of Lanyon’s work, for his assistance with the cataloguing of this painting.

This powerful early work by Peter Lanyon, which had until recently lost its original title, provenance and exhibition history, was painted in St. Ives, Cornwall, during a highly critical period of British artistic development.
Since the mid-nineteenth century St Ives had enjoyed a reputation as a prominent artistic outpost of representational art, with a burgeoning colony of painters who drew their subject matter mainly from scenes of everyday life. It was the much venerated quality of light caused by the reflections off the enveloping expanses of sea that encouraged artists to settle in the town, which was only to increase with the opening of the Cornish Main Line in c.1852, connecting south Cornwall to the rest of the country.

In 1939 however, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, this community of painters were joined by a number of key international Modernist artists including the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, the painter Ben Nicholson, and the Russian Constructivist Naum Gabo. Their style of work was much different than that of their peers in St Ives, and although some reacted negatively to their approach, others, like Lanyon, embraced their modernist views.

In the years immediately following the war, the modern painters in St Ives began to forge their own distinctive identity, and following a series of heated debates with the traditional painters, which mainly revolved around the hanging positions of their works in the group shows, they rebelled, and started exhibiting works separately. The gallery space they chose to exhibit was in the Crypt below the main gallery in the Mariners Church where the rest of the society exhibited, and this collective, though technically still members of the St Ives Society of artists, became known as the Crypt Group. The founders of this new group were Peter Lanyon, John Wells, Sven Berlin and Bryan Wynter, with a number of other artists also exhibiting with them over the next few years including Patrick Heron, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Adrian Ryan and David Haughton. It was in the second Crypt Group show that the present work was exhibited.
Later in 1949 however it became clear that the modern painters needed to form something entirely separate, and that year nineteen members of the St Ives Society, including Lanyon, resigned and formed the Penwith Society of Arts and Crafts in Cornwall.

In 1946 Lanyon married Sheila St John Browne and embarked on his first series of work known as ‘Generation’. This series, as suggested by the title, responded to the process of bringing into the world his first child, and translated into pictorial form the emotional processes from conception to birth. In these works from the mid-late 1940s Lanyon demonstrates a preoccupation with the use of space, and his forms take on a more intimate role, often with sophisticated relationships between one another as befitting his neo-romanticist visions at this time. Indeed the placement of the buildings in this work, unified by the white horse at the centre, is not dissimilar to the positioning of architectural forms in Lanyon’s seminal work Annunciation [private collection], painted in 1946 just after the birth of Lanyon’s first child.

Horses were used by Lanyon in varying forms throughout the 1940s as subject matter for both his paintings and poetry, and they appear to take on a romantic, mythical function as suggested by this poem:

'In the side of my eye
I saw a horse
My ancestor horses
My brothers in wisdom
I will ride now
The barren kingdoms
In my history and
In my eye'

Lanyon also used horses to explore themes of growth and fertility, as can be seen in his seminal work The Yellow Runner from 1946 [Lakeland Arts Trust], which shows a horse in a womb-like organisation of forms. The enveloping positioning of these forms around the horse is noticeable too in the present work, with the combination of the foreground buildings and the sweeping, embracing form of the harbour in the background. These ideas of personifying both natural and man-made structures of the Cornish coastline is a theme which one sees repeated frequently in the work of other artists working in St Ives at this period, including most notably Barbara Hepworth, whose 1946 wood carving Pelagos was inspired by the embracing ‘arms’ of the land which enfold St Ives bay.

Few paintings by Lanyon from this period demonstrate the same high level of physical involvement when compared to this example, evident most clearly in the highly worked, craftsman-like approach to the surface texture. Razor blades were used to score the surface, most evident along the back of the horse, and areas of the surface were rubbed back to reveal the white ground beneath.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.