Peter Lanyon 1918–1964
T01082 TALL COUNTRY AND SEASHORE 1951
Painted wood and coloured perspex, 70 3/8×11 3/8×8 (179×29×20·5) (excluding base).
Presented by Mrs Shiela Lanyon 1968.
Exh: Tate Gallery, May–June 1968 (19) and Arts Council tour: City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth, July–August 1968; Laing Art Gallery, New castle upon Tyne, August 1968; City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, Sept. 1968; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Oct. 1968.
One of a number of constructions made by the artist as a way of working out spatial problems while composing ‘Porthleven’, finished in 1951. The picture itself and one of the other constructions entered the Tate collection in 1953 and 1967 (N06151 and T00950). The purpose for which the constructions were made is described in the entry in the Tate Gallery Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, vol. I, p. 372.
Photographs of the painting taken by the artist at various stages of completion of the first version in December 1950 and January 1951 seem to indicate that ‘Tall Country and Seashore’ was made as a study for the left-hand side of the revised second version of the composition when other motifs, including the one for which T00950, another construction, was made, were moved nearer the central axis.
A photograph of the first (destroyed) version shows it with five constructions grouped in front of it around the artist but ‘Tall Country and Seashore’ is not among these, a fact which may also suggest that it was made later and therefore (unlike the others) in 1951, just before the second version was executed. Its generally cool, green-grey tonality also conforms with that of ‘Porthleven’ and subsequent paintings rather than with earlier ones.
Mrs Lanyon has transcribed (2 May 1969) a note by the artist on the painting, which has not been published:
‘Many sketches and constructions made for this portrait of a place. Two harbours in tandem and an outer breakwater - an aerial view. Town built on either side of harbour. Setting - green fields - like two people or creatures. Tower on left as sign.’
A further description of the composition comes from the text of a lecture given by Lanyon on his work: ‘Porthleven is another Cornish harbour. The village lies at the end of a long steep valley, and you look down at it from the hills on either side. The harbour is constructed in the estuary itself - there's a long outer harbour a central one controlling the waters, and an inner harbour enclosed behind lock gates. The water runs right down through the middle of the picture, which is rather like an aerial view. It's a much more complicated construction than Portreath. There are some frontal planes, but down at the bottom are a number of shapes which roll and pitch - like boats around the inner harbour.
‘The forms in the picture have always suggested two people to me. This may be accidental or at any rate unconscious, but I always look for figures in my pictures when I've painted them. On the left there's a very tall masculine shape holding up something that looks like a lamp; and on the other side there seems to be a woman in a shawl - someone you could meet anytime walking round the Porthleven shore.’
The Tate Gallery: Acquisitions 1968-9, London 1969