Peter Lanyon was born in St. Ives, and was the only Cornishman among the central members of the St. Ives School. He attended art school in London, and served with the RAF during the war. The Yellow Runner was painted soon after he returned to Cornwall in 1945, when the influence of Ben Nicholson’s paintings and Naum Gabo’s constructions fed into Lanyon’s own very individual vision of the Cornish landscape.
The foreground appears to be a section through the landscape, which opens out to reveal an interior space inhabited by horses. In the background, a fox - the yellow runner - races across the Cornish hillside, identified as Gunwalloe, near Helston. Combining autobiography, myth and imagination, Lanyon described the work as
‘a painting of a story. Runner with message on way to stockade horses. Fox as field. Reference to horses cut in hillside. Yellow Runner as fertilising agent. Stockade as womb. A homecoming.’
The reference to a womb-like inner-space suggests that the theme of fertility is central. It is thought that the ‘yellow runner’ may represent the artist himself, while the horses are metaphors for his wife and children. The picture may also be intended to represent the fertility of the land, as well as the artist’s creativity.