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A Cornish palimpsest : Peter Lanyon and the construction of a new landscape, 1938-1964

Wallersteiner, Anthony (2000) A Cornish palimpsest : Peter Lanyon and the construction of a new landscape, 1938-1964. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86208) (KAR id:86208)


The thesis examines the emergence of Peter Lanyon as one of the few truly innovative British landscape painters this century. In the Introduction I discuss the problematic nature of landscape art and consider the significance of Lanyon's discovery that direct description and linear perspective can be replaced with allusive representational elements by fusing the emotional and imaginative life of the artist with the physical activity of painting. Chapter One concentrates on the period 1936-8 when Lanyon was taught by Borlase Smart, a key figure in the St Ives art colony between the wars. Chapter Two examines the influence of Adrian Stokes and the links between Lanyon's painting and the theories developed in books such as Colour and Form and The Quattro Cento. Chapter Three analyses the period 1940-45 when Lanyon was directly influenced by the constructivism of Nicholson, Hepworth and Gabo. I look closely at their approaches to abstraction and assess Lanyon's relative position to them. The importance of Neo-Romanticism and the status of St Ives as a perceived avant-garde community is also addressed. In Chapter Four I discuss how Lanyon resolved to achieve a new orientation in his art on his return from wartime service with the RAF by synthesising constructivism, and traditional landscape. The Generation and Surfacing Series demonstrate his preoccupation with a sense of place, a fascination with the relationships between the human body and landscape and his struggle to find a technique and style that was entirely his own. His sense of existential insideness is discussed in Chapter Five through an examination of the work derived from Portreath, St. Just and Porthleven - key places in Lanyon's psychological attachment to the landscape of West Penwith. In Chapter Six I examine Lanyon's attachment to myths and archetypal forms, tracing the influence of Bergson's vitalist philosophy as well as his use of Celtic and classical motifs. Chapter Seven is a discussion of the malaise evident in Lanyon's work by 1955 and the impact of American Abstract Expressionism at the Tate Gallery a year later. In the summer of 1959 Lanyon joined the Cornish Gliding Club and Chapter Eight looks at how this necessitated a dynamic, expanded conception of the landscape and a re-thinking of relations within the picture field. The ability to dissolve boundaries encouraged him to break down distinctions between painting and construction so that abstract sculptural elements were now assembled into independent works of art. Finally, Chapter Nine assesses Lanyon's overall position in relation to his early influences and to St Ives art as a whole, his response to new directions in art coming out of London and NewYork in the early 1960s and the importance of travel as a stimulus for further realignment in his artistic and topographical horizons. His pictorial inventiveness and vitality remained unabated at the time of his death and would undoubtedly have continued to be enriched by travel abroad and contact with new movements in modem art on both sides of the Atlantic

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86208
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Peter Lanyon
Subjects: N Visual Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:34 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2022 12:23 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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