Cows by Peter Lanyon, 1937


Cows by Peter Lanyon, 1937

A young artist on the brink of a brilliant career

Taking a closer look at lot 168 in our Cornish Art & Fine Art Sale, at our Penzance saleroom on

15th & 16th June




Peter Lanyon


Cornwall has been the home to many important artists, most of whom moved here attracted by the climate, the light and the society of like-minded creatives. Of the ‘home-grown’ talent, Peter Lanyon is probably one of the greats. His tragic early death in a gliding accident in 1964 cut short a brilliant career. His paintings can now fetch sums in excess of a million pounds and he is held in collections around the world. So naturally, when a client says they have an unusual Lanyon to sell, we were intrigued.


Lanyon Orpheus 1961

'Orpheus' by Lanyon, 1961. Sold for £1.2 million in 2018


The joy of being situated in Cornwall, is that much more than an artist’s paintings are brought to our salerooms; sketches, notebooks, artist’s ephemera, yes, but also the other myriad things that tell their life stories if you care to look deep enough.

So it is with an unusual lot in Lay’s Cornish & Fine Art Sale, an early, untypical Peter Lanyon work in gouache, depicting a rather modernist group of cows. The painting comes from the estate of Penzance’s first lady mayor, Agatha Chirgwin, who wasn’t known for her art collection.


Agatha Chirgwin 1961

Agatha performing her mayorial duties, c. 1961


With a little bit of sleuthing, and help from the archives of the wonderful Morrab Library in Penzance, the story of the picture unfolded. It transpired that in 1937 when Lanyon was just 19 and studying at The Penzance School of Art, he was also a member of the ‘Penzance Players’ who were putting on a play by Dodie Smith, “Call it a Day” at the Penzance Pavillion.


The play, written in 1935, is set in London and follows the affairs of the Hilton household over the course of a day. Dorothy Hilton, the mother, was played by Peggy Bazeley, the two daughters Catherine and Ann were played by Margaret Jacobs and Christine Taylor, the father Roger by Philip Chellew and the son Martin by Peter Lanyon. The family cook was played by Miss Agatha Chirgwin.


call it a day


The play received a glowing review in The Cornishman. Their November 11th edition stated that Lanyon 'made a very good thing out of the high-spirited, motor-mad boy'. During one of the scenes the script has the cook referring wistfully to a picture of cows on the wall "I've always got my cows to look at" she states. To ensure realism a painting of cows was needed, so Peter Lanyon the actor was required to lend his artistic skill to this production, and produced this interesting painting of cows as a theatrical prop.


Even in 1937, Lanyon’s modernist style was evolving – there is nothing at all traditional about these cows. The work is exciting because it shows Lanyon’s confident individualism and the promise of the artist he was to become, and it also provides us with interesting knowledge about the artist’s early life.

 lot 168 Lanyon



The entire auction of 729 lots can be viewed at our Penzance saleroom on

Saturday 10th June, 9am to 1pm.

Monday 12th, Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th June, 9am to 5pm.












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