For Lanyon, landscape involved much more than the geography or the visual response to a place: it was to be experienced and interpreted with all the senses from multiple viewpoints. Trevalgan shows a terrain thrust up towards the viewer, surrounded by sea and sky, and with the grid of fields and ancient rock formations providing a multifaceted and stratified view. Here we bear witness to Lanyon abandoning conventional perspective and, through an amalgamation of numerous viewpoints, give us an overall interpretation of the place. As Lanyon explains: ‘By removing the static viewpoint from landscape and introducing an image constructed or in my case evolved out of many experiences the problem of landscape becomes one of painting environment, place and a revelation of a time process’ (the Artist, quoted in Andrew Lanyon, Peter Lanyon 1918-64, Penzance, 1990, p.290).
Through the thin layers of pigment built up on the surface, a sense of history emerges from Trevalgan. Lanyon deeply felt Cornwall’s cultural past and this sense of history is reflected in Lanyon’s complex view of the landscape, which for him involved the inhabitants and their influence on the land, the industries they brought with them, the geological and social history of a place, the meteorological conditions, as well as a sense of the mythical past.
Lanyon himself recognized that with Trevalgan he had broken the bounds of traditional landscape and produced a work of immense power, writing in a letter to Paul Feiler that: ‘It is one of my best and a significant one’ (the Artist in correspondence to Paul Feiler, 16th July 1952). The work was included in Lanyon’s second solo exhibition in London, held at Gimpel Fils in 1952, and critics of the exhibition acknowledged that Lanyon had here made a significant shift in paradigm and focused on Trevalgan as a major highlight of the show:
‘[Lanyon] tilts a landscape up and looks at it as if from the air, he extends it sideways as if seen from a car racing across it, he sounds its depths within its mineshafts. His paintings are like maps - but with horizons, and with images made volatile and sensuous by the beautifully sheer application of paint… In the magnificent painting called Trevalgan (No 2), the dip and flow of the fields from the gentle South coast on the left to the angular north coast on the right, the broken white cliff-face, the clean force of the wind across the whole peninsula, the washed light, are all wrought together in one new form which simultaneously rises up from the sea and lies, as in an aerial view, flat upon it. It is a painting, not of appearance, but of the properties of a landscape: properties only discovered when one knows a place so well that its ordinary scenic appearance has long been forgotten.’ (John Berger, ‘Peter Lanyon, at Gimpel Fils,’ The New Statesman and Nation, 15th March 1952, p.303)
Trevalgan was originally in the collection of Thomas Baker Slick, Jr, (1916-1962), a legendary philanthropist and cultural figure of San Antonio, Texas. The son of an oil tycoon, Tom Jr was an incredibly successful entrepreneur and businessman in his own right, and invested in multiple scientific endeavours. He was a passionate traveller and explorer, famously leading an expedition through the Himalayas in search of the ‘Abominable Snowman’ in 1957. Slick’s adventurous eye soon led him to international art collecting and from the early 1950s amassed an impressive group of works by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Pablo Picasso alongside contemporary British artists such as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth (including Head (Icon), sold in these rooms 26th May 2010), Alan Davie, William Gear and, of course, Peter Lanyon (including the present work and Down Wind, sold in these rooms, 15th November 2011). Following his tragic death in an airplane crash in 1962, a large part of the collection was gifted to the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio in 1973, and works were gathered there for exhibition in 2009.
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