Lot 18
  • 18

Peter Lanyon

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • Peter Lanyon
  • Fly Away
  • signed, titled and dated 61 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 122 by 183cm.; 48 by 72in.


Sheila Lanyon
New Art Centre, London
Gimpel Fils, London
Private Collection
Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London, where acquired by the present owner in the late 1990s


New York, Catherine Viviano Gallery, Peter Lanyon, 30th January - 17th February 1962, cat. no.9;
San Antonio, Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, Peter Lanyon, March 1963 (un-numbered exhibition);
London, New Art Centre, 1976 (details untraced);
Paris, Artcuriel, English Contrasts: Peintres et Sculpteurs Anglais 1950-1960, September - November 1984, un-numbered catalogue (incorrectly dated).


Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon, Aidan Ellis, Henley-on-Thames, 1971, cat. no.157.
Adam Butler (ed.), The Art Book, Phaidon, London, 1997, illustrated p.264;
Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon's Gliding Paintings 
(exh. cat.), The Courtauld Gallery, London, 2015, p.22, illustrated pl.6.


Original canvas. There is some very minor frame abrasion and light scuffing around the extreme edges, with a minor handling mark in the lower left corner, which appear to be the Artist's finger prints. There is a small scuff to the white pigment in the upper right corner. There are a few very small spots of surface dirt in places. Subject to the above the work is in excellent overall condition. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals a few small spots of retouching at the centre of the lower edge. The work is float mounted within a simple white painted wood frame. Please telephone the department on +44 207 293 6424 if you have any questions.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

We are grateful to Toby Treves and Martin Lanyon for their kind assistance with the cataloguing apparatus for the present work, which will feature in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the Artist’s oil paintings and three-dimensional works, being prepared by Toby Treves, to be published by Modern Art Press in association with Yale University Press.

‘I believe that landscape, the outside world of things and events larger than ourselves is the proper place to find our deepest meanings … I want to make the point that landscape painting is not a provincial activity … but a true ambition like the mountaineer who cannot see the clouds without feeling the lift inside them…’

(Peter Lanyon, Some Aspects in Modern British Painting: an Artist’s Point of View, lecture for the British Council in Czechoslovakia, 27th January 1964)

Fly Away is a seminal example of a series of works known as ‘Gliding Paintings’ by the Cornish artist Peter Lanyon, the recent focus of the Courtauld’s fantastic Soaring Flight exhibition (October 2015 - January 2016). Perhaps more so than any of the St Ives artists, Peter Lanyon is most intimately connected to the land, and in particular to the Cornish landscape. Travelling by foot, motorbike and then glider, he transcribed his experiences onto canvas. It is this final mode of transport, gliding, which produced arguably his most striking and successful work.

Lanyon began to train as a glider pilot in 1959, and it was a passion that tragically cut short his life: a gliding accident in 1964 resulted in his untimely death. In the five years that Lanyon flew gliders, however, he produced a large number of incredibly sophisticated works which record his experiences of flying among the elements. Often on a large scale, these works elide landscape painting with abstract gesture, producing works which occupy a realm of painting which is hard to specifically define: Lanyon himself insisted in no uncertain terms that he was not an abstract painter. Fly Away is typical of his gliding paintings in its ambiguity, filled with colours and shapes which seem to reference specific elements or landmarks, yet elude them too; a creamy white fills the canvas, suggestive perhaps of dense white clouds, through which emerge dark blues and blacks - a stormy sea, maybe, or dark stone walls glimpsed from above. Flashes of ochre and red punctuate the work, their geometric shapes evocative of the wings of the glider. Most dramatic of all is a single flash of yellow, piercing the dark blue like a fork of lightning, reminiscent of the ‘zips’ used by Barnett Newman. The huge scale of the work, and the strong, energetic brushstrokes which fill it give an impression of the fierce winds Lanyon would have battled, and of the sheer physicality that gliding involved.

The title of the present work, Fly Away, speaks, of course, of the desire to explore, to climb up into the heavens, soar above the fields, sea and land he knew so well: to seek out another realm, swiftly, quickly, daringly. The phrase ‘fly away’ has romantic, ethereal connotations, and tells of the fascination that gliding must have held for Lanyon. Indeed, in September 1961, the year the present work was executed, Lanyon was elected a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd for services to Cornish Art, and appropriately his Bardic name was 'Marghak an Gwyns', which translates as 'Rider of the Winds'. Lanyon was to write that: ‘I believe that landscape, the outside world of things and events larger than ourselves is the proper place to find our deepest meanings…I want to make the point that landscape painting is not a provincial activity as it is thought by many to be in the United States, but a true ambition like the mountaineer who cannot see the clouds without feeling the lift inside them. These things take us in to places where our trial with forces greater than ourselves, where skill and training and courage combine to make us transcend our ordinary lives’ (Peter Lanyon, ‘Some Aspects in Modern British Painting: An Artist’s Point of View’, lecture for the British Council in Czechoslovakia, 27th January 1964). This statement perfectly encapsulates Lanyon's aims and ambitions for the gliding paintings, and in the joyful abandon of Fly Away, Lanyon has certainly achieved his desire to transport the viewer into another realm.