Catalogue entry

Peter Lanyon 1918–1964

T01496 Construction 1947

Not inscribed.
Painted aluminium and plywood, 9½ x 12 x 11 (24.2 x 30.5 x 28) without the glass base.
Purchased from the artist’s widow through the Basil Jacobs’s Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1971.
Exh: Downing’s Bookshop, St Ives 1947; 3rd Annual Crypt Show, St Ives 1948; Tate Gallery (Arts Council) May-June 1968 (12, repr. 2), and the subsequent tour to Plymouth, Newcastle, Birmingham, and Liverpool; Basil Jacobs Gallery, November–December 1971 (17, repr.).
Lit: Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon, 1971, p. 14 (repr. plate 8).

Lanyon began to make constructions in 1938, when he was working in Naum Gabo’s studio in Carbis Bay, St Ives. Three of Lanyon’s constructions of this period are known: ‘Box Construction, No. 1’ (coll. Margaret Gardiner), ‘Box Construction, No. 2’ (probably destroyed) and ‘White Track Construction’ (coll. Mrs Sheila Lanyon).

They were similar in appearance to Gabo’s sculpture. Lanyon wrote of this period of his work (letter to the Tate, 6 September 1958): ‘However, the biggest influence was Gabo… Hence the word “Construction” applied to my objects.’

There is photographic record of five further constructions which Lanyon made between 1946–47: ‘Wood Carving’ made of painted deal, 1946; ‘Wing’, possibly of metal and perspex, 1946; ‘First Perspex Construction’, 1947; ‘Metal Construction’, 1947, and T01496. The three 1947 constructions were closely related in that each comprised curled forms swirling into each other, and bonded lightly together. They were still greatly influenced by Gabo.

Lanyon destroyed four of the five 1946–47 constructions—only T01496 remains. Asked why Lanyon destroyed the works, Mrs Sheila Lanyon wrote (letter, 8 March 1972): ‘Similar things were always being put together and taken apart, to help in other paintings perhaps... I think Peter must have liked it very much or he would have pulled it apart again. Perhaps it was the artist unpeeling himself’. Mrs Lanyon’s last remark relates to the fact that the artist used to call the sculpture ‘Man peeling an apple’.

It is not known whether Lanyon thought at this time that the activity of making constructions related closely to what he was achieving in his paintings. Lanyon wrote (letter, 6 September 1958) of his constructions 1952 that ‘they were not complete things in themselves but as experiments in space to establish the illusion and the content of space in painting’. However, this description does not seem to be true of the earlier constructions, although the painting ‘Green Construction’, 1947 (subsequently painted over) resembles a Gaboesque configuration. (‘Wood Carving’, painted deal, and ‘Wing’ were both exhibited at the 1st Crypt show, St Ives, September 1946 as sculptures, and T01496 was probably shown similarly, and not related in the exhibition to paintings).

The compiler suggested to Patrick Heron, a life-long friend of the artist, that T01496, on account of its structure and material had surely been made as a self-contained sculpture, and had not been intended as the basis or model for a painting. Heron replied (30 March 1972) that Lanyon had the attitude that nothing was self- contained. He wrote: ‘It’s quite true that Peter had this attitude—not only to the sculptures but to paintings and drawings too: to everything in fact—that they were not complete in themselves but were essentially parts of a ‘process towards’… Actually I criticised this attitude because it led him to actually destroy so many paintings that were really very fine indeed. Sheila tells me most of the constructions like the one you’ve bought were destroyed; and I can believe it. Many of these three dimensional works may indeed have been vital parts of the process of painting a particular picture. But I don’t think this means that anyone other than Peter is precluded from valuing them in and for themselves alone as well. There are certainly some early paintings which look as it were like realistic representations of an abstract construction of the Gaboesque type.’

Lanyon set the Construction, T01496, on a black painted glass base. Mrs Lanyon (letter 15 March 1972) denied that the artist would have been interested in the effect of the reflections which the construction caused on the glass. Patrick Heron wrote of the importance of the base, ‘I think that the black base is integral to the sculpture… It seems to me that all the curved elements are meant to be gripped in the wedge-shaped space between the base and that rigid diagonal’.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.