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ABOVE Little Cressingham, Norfolk
  • LEFT Flowers in a Black Pot, Etching & Aquatint
  • MIDDLE Late Summer Flowers, Etching & Aquatint
  • RIGHT Pebble Alcove, Screenprint
  • LEFT Scotney Castle I, Etching
  • MIDDLE Scotney Castle III, Etching
  • RIGHT Sunflowers, Etching & Aquatint
  • LEFT Yellow Flowers, Etching & Aquatint
  • MIDDLE Shadwell Park, Screenprint
  • RIGHT Terrace with Morning Glories, Screenprint

John Piper

John Piper’s (1903 – 1992) career spanned over sixty years and encompassed a huge range of artistic media including print making, painting, drawing, book illustration, photography, stained glass windows, fabric design, murals, stage sets and costume design. He is most readily associated with his prints and paintings of the romantic heritage of Britain. Piper explored and painted rural Britain throughout his life (a passion that started with bicycle adventures in his native Surrey as a boy\) fascinated by vernacular, ecclesiastical and architecture in general. In his print making he frequently took as his subject matter abbeys and churches, houses, castles and cottages, piers, beaches and harbours. His style is a unique mix of quintessential Englishness (in the tradition of Gilpin and Turner) with a commitment to the modern and abstract movements that were emerging as he left art school. His style is dramatic and romantic, combining rich passages of colour, calligraphic line and experimental textures with a dazzling freedom of expression.

Piper, the son of a solicitor, was born in Epsom in 1903. He was educated at Epsom College and trained at the Richmond School of Art, followed by the Royal Collage of Art in London (1926-28). From 1928 to 1933 he wrote art criticism for the Listener and the Nation, and he was among the first to recognise such contemporaries as William Coldstream, Ivon Hitchens, Victor Pasmore, and Ceri Richards. During the 1930s Piper experimented with abstraction, this interest was heightened by trips to Paris (where he met Jean Helion) and the influence of Ben Nicholson. He founded Axis magazine with his second wife Myfanwy Evans, the magazine set out to promote abstract art. Piper’s interest in architecture was revived by his friendship with John Betjeman and his commission to write Oxon: the Shell guide to Oxfordshire. This retreat from modernism was a compromise between abstraction and reinterpretation of certain native traditions.

Piper was appointed an official war artist in the Second World War; he recorded the effects of the Blitz on the buildings of Britain. In 1941 he produced his first series of drawings of Windsor Castle for H.M the Queen (the late Queen Mother) and his work became increasingly prized and sought-after. After the war in the late 1950s he was a Trustee of the Tate Gallery and later of the National Gallery and a member of the Arts Council Art Panel. In 1959 for nineteen years he became a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission and in 1971 he was appointed Companion of Honour in recognition of his services to art.

Apart from his paintings and graphics he is well known for his stained glass window in Coventry Cathedral, the windows for Eton College Chapel, and (in collaboration with Patrick Reyntiens) for Liverpool’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. He worked in the graphics field for many years having started Contemporary Lithographs in 1936 in cooperation with Robert Wellington and the Curwen and Baynard Press. His association with the Curwen Studio has continued and has produced one of the best known suites of lithographs “A Retrospect of Churches” in 1964. In the 1960s he also turned to screenprinting and etching working with Chris Prater at Kelpra Studio. The Tate Gallery held a retrospective of Piper’s Work in 1983.

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