Friday, January 20, 2006


Photograph reproduced on the wall of the Science Museum, London

In paintings like Thermal (1960) Peter Lanyon fused the roles of glider pilot and landscape painter. However, he was by no means the first painter to take to the air. One could go back to the stories of flying experiments by Leonardo da Vinci, or another polymath and painter, Paolo Guidotti. And in the twentieth century Italian Futurists were among many artists considering the implications of powered flight. However, long before Marinetti wrote his Manifesto dell Aeropittura (1929), a precursor to Lanyon was building some of the earliest successful gliders. José Weiss (1859-1919) was a Paris-born landscape painter who lived in England. Just as Lanyon drew inspiration from watching the seagulls flying around the cliffs of Cornwall, Weiss had a lifelong interest in birds, as is evident from his designs for gliders. Photographs show them to be beautiful constructions (and, incidentally, more reminiscent of the sculptures Lanyon later made than the streamlined post-war gliders Lanyon flew). The combination of scientific understanding and artistic flair has led aviation historians to liken Weiss to Leonardo (see the comments here for example). But how did Weiss’s researches into flight affect his painting? Unsurprisingly perhaps, hardly at all. His landscapes reflected prevailing trends, influenced by the Barbizon school and Impressionism. Here are some links to images currently on-line: Barbizon Lakeside Landscape with Path, The Stream and Barbizon Landscape.

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