Peter Lanyon (1918-1964):
Porthmeor Mural, 1962
Framed (ref: 5566)
Signed and dated 1962, inscribed with title
Oil on canvas
106.7 x 965.2 cm (42 x 380 in.)
Provenance: Commissioned by Stanley Seeger, USA
Literature: Andrew Lanyon, Peter Lanyon 1918-1964, Newlyn, 1990, p.302-309, illustrated in colour; Margaret Garlake, Peter Lanyon, Tate Gallery, London, 1998, pp.58, 59, 63, 72, illustrated in colour; Chris Stephens, Peter Lanyon: At The Edge of Landscape, 21 Publishing, London, 2000, p.162, no illustrations
Exhibitions: Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, Peter Lanyon – Paintings, Drawings and Constructions 1937-64, 1978, cat no.77 Bath, Victoria Art Gallery, Porthmeor, A Peter Lanyon Mural Rediscovered, October 25, 2008 - January 4, 2009, pp.5-19, illus colour p.15 and pp.36-7
In January 1962, Peter Lanyon was commissioned by the American art collector Stanley J. Seeger to paint a mural for his home Bois d’Arc, in
Frenchtown, New Jersey. The site, a music studio in a converted barn, required a work nearly ten times as wide as it was high and offered Lanyon the opportunity to paint on a grand scale. After viewing the space at Seeger’s estate at the beginning of 1962 Lanyon returned to St Ives, where he produced three life-size sketches in gouache and indian ink. These were Porthleven, based on his oil in the Tate Gallery collection, Delaware, inspired by the river near Seeger’s home, and Bois d’Arc, ‘a lyrical and light design concerned with the surface rhythms which might appear in the final work’.
In his notes, Lanyon writes that the mural ‘refers to many aspects of the sea, including associated myths. The main appearance of it is as a fast moving sea, with cross-shore drift and counter drift.’ In Lanyon’s paintings, a landscape is invariably the compression of multiple perspectives, depicting land and sea from different viewpoints, in different weathers and at different times of day. 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. It is clear that the subject of the mural, and its precise symbolic meaning for Lanyon, evolved as the project progressed. Lanyon associated the yellow area on the left with the Golden Fleece and he described the left-hand side of the painting as representing ‘the past and events across the sea’.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the collaborative nature of its creation, the final mural is a multi-layered and highly subjective work. This unique project bears comparison with Stanley Spencer’s commission to paint the interior of the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere (1927-1932), an earlier example of private patronage, in which a chapel was conceived as a memorial to a lost brother. In both cases, the specifics of place and the almost self-indulgent nature of the commissions were, ironically, the catalysts for highly autobiographical works of art. The quality and completeness of these murals is such that they have outlived their patrons and transcended their original contexts to become masterpieces of twentieth-century British art.