The present work is an initial study for Porthmeor Mural, 1962, commissioned by Stanley Seeger for the music room at Bois d'Arc, his house in Frenchtown, New Jersey. The finished mural took over a year to create and hung from a huge beam across the converted barn (see Fig. 1).
The large-scale commission allowed Lanyon to create a composition across which the viewer could gaze, as they would across a real landscape, and he enjoyed the freedom of producing a private mural rather than a public commission. He wrote how ‘the site is special because the mural has to provide a link between paintings, sculpture, the room and living. The mural is not intended for a public gallery with its essentially impersonal character but for a private collection in a home … it is therefore my intention to produce a work which will provide both a myth and a sense of continuity for a developing collection’ (ibid Treves, pp.565-567 and Lanyon, pp.302-309).
In the process of creating this monumental oil, which measures over 32 feet long, Lanyon visited the site several times, producing several pencil sketches, as well as three full size gouaches, one of which was chosen as the basis for the final work. After several revisions, including two weeks with Lanyon reworking the final canvas in situ, it is interesting that the final painting is significantly different in composition from the earlier gouaches. The present work is the small coloured sketch that is mentioned in the initial contract dated 14 February 1962 from the Catherine Viviano Gallery, which was to be given to Seeger to give the visual impression of the finished work. As such, this work bears more relation to the earlier sketches and life-size gouache than the final version. Martin Lanyon comments ‘The initial mural sketch is about as Cornish (not American) as you can get and is based on Porthmeor, the beach in front of St Ives Tate. Both the initial sketch and the final mural evolved from PL’s take on the sea, shoreline and the movements of sea, sand and weather across Porthmeor beach. During its production (both in St Ives and later on-site in New Jersey) PL and Seeger enjoyed a lot of music and theatre together so music became integral to the evolution and phrasing of the image, as did the architecture of the smaller cross-beams in the roof at Bois d’Arc. By adding the movements left to right (and back again) along the length of the mural (i.e. across Porthmeor beach) PL was trying to translate all of these real experiences into visual equivalents and this is what he tried to explain in words that few others could have understood at the time’ (Martin Lanyon, private correspondence, 2018).
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