Peter Lanyon



Not on display

Peter Lanyon 1918–1964
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1220 × 1830 mm
frame: 1238 × 1850 × 51 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983

Display caption

Humanity and the individual were at the centre of Lanyon’s concept of landscape, and throughout his life he remained fascinated with the confrontation between man and nature. This work represents Lanyon’s response to the 1962 wreck of the French trawler, Jeanne Gougy, which ran aground at Land’s End in stormy weather. In the last year of his life, Lanyon moved from a diffused, tonal palette towards one of intense and saturated colours. The layered and gestural surface of the painting invokes the turbulent sea and the interplay of complex natural forces.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Catalogue entry

T03693 Wreck 1963

Oil on canvas 48 × 78 (1220 × 1830)
Inscribed ‘Lanyon 63’ lower centre and ‘Lanyon 63’ near right edge towards middle and ‘Lanyon 63’ slightly to lower left of this and ‘Wreck Lanyon Dec 63’ on reverse
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Prov: Mrs Sheila Lanyon (until 1967); Peter Stuyvesant Foundation (until 1976); private collection, sold to Redfern Gallery 1982, from whom purchased for the Tate Gallery
Exh: 54/64 Painting and Sculpture of a Decade, Tate Gallery, April–June 1964 (212, repr.); Peter Lanyon, Bilder 1960–64, Gimpel und Hanover Galerie, Zurich, September–October 1964 (12); Recent British Painting, Tate Gallery, November–December 1967 (25, repr.) and extensive subsequent tours of Peter Stuyvesant Collection including Recent British Painting, Sixth Adelaide Festival Of Arts, Art Gallery of South Australia, 1970 (24); Forty Years of Modern Art, Tate Gallery, February–April 1986 (works not numbered, repr. in col. p.57)
Lit: Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon: His Painting, 1971, no.201, p.68

Alan Bowness wrote (letter to the compiler of 29 April 1986):

‘Wreck’ was one of the last important paintings that Peter made, completed in December 1963. Immediately after it was finished he began to experiment with a brighter palette - which is already hinted at in some earlier 1963 pictures, like Margaret Gardiner's ‘Heather Coast’. But ‘Wreck’ was a winter picture, and Peter didn't move far away from the blue sea-and-sky colours that he always preferred.

The first title of this work was ‘Untitled, Jeanne Gougy’, but Peter Lanyon seems to have decided to call the painting ‘Wreck’ when he sent it to London for the ‘54/64’ exhibition at the Tate Gallery (letter to Alan Bowness from Peter Lanyon, 8 March 1964). Alan Bowness wrote 29 April 1986), that:

new paintings were usually left in the studio and in the house for several months, so that Peter could live with them and make sure they were all right. At this period the titles often changed.

The inspiration for this painting came from the wreck of a French trawler, Jeanne Gougy, bound for Dieppe from Irish fishing grounds, in November 1962 (the correct name of the ship was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence, Hydrographic Office in Taunton; it has sometimes been incorrectly called ‘Jean Gougy’). The ship ran aground at Land's End during sudden squalls of rain and heavy seas. ‘It was one of the most dramatic wreck and rescue stories off the Cornish Coast’ (David Mudd, The Cruel Cornish Sea, 1981). Mrs Sheila Lanyon wrote (letter of 19 April 1986) that ‘the wreck was one of the more horrifyingly memorable ones’ and the whole Lanyon family went down to Land's End to see the wreck a few days after the event.

Lanyon painted this subject in the garage studio at his home ‘Little Park Owles’, Carbis Bay, Cornwall, a year later. According to Alan Bowness it was certainly painted between October and December 1963, as ‘it didn't exist when I left St Ives in September 1963; and I saw it in late December/early January 1964’. There were no preliminary drawings or sketches, apart from two photographs by the artist of the grounded ship (two slides, copies of the original photographs, are in the Tate Gallery Archive). Alan Bowness recalls that ‘Peter was very happy with “Wreck”’. In the catalogue of the exhibition Recent British Paintings, Tate Gallery, 1967, he characterised this work as ‘one of the most dramatic before his untimely accidental death’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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