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John Piper Artwork Analysis Essays

For other people named John Piper, see John Piper.

John Piper

Middle Mill, Pembrokeshire, 1982

BornJohn Egerton Christmas Piper
(1903-12-13)13 December 1903
Epsom, Surrey, UK
Died28 June 1992(1992-06-28) (aged 88)
Fawley Bottom, Buckinghamshire, UK
Known forPainting, printmaking
  • Eileen Holding (m. 1929–36, divorced)
  • Myfanwy Evans (m. 1937–92, his death)

John Egerton Christmas PiperCH (13 December 1903 – 28 June 1992) was an English painter, printmaker and designer of stained-glass windows and both opera and theatre sets. His work often focused on the British landscape, especially churches and monuments, and included tapestry designs, book jackets, screen-prints, photography, fabrics and ceramics. He was educated at Epsom College and trained at the Richmond School of Art, followed by the Royal College of Art in London.[1] He turned from abstraction early in his career, concentrating on a more naturalistic but distinctive approach, but often worked in several different styles throughout his career. He was an official war artist in World War II and his war-time depictions of bomb damaged churches and landmarks, most notably those of Coventry Cathedral, made Piper a household name and led to his work being acquired by several public collections.[2] Piper collaborated with many others, including the poets John Betjeman and Geoffrey Grigson on the Shell Guides,[3][4] and with the potter Geoffrey Eastop and the artist Ben Nicholson. In his later years he produced many limited-edition prints.


Early life[edit]

John Piper was born in Epsom, Surrey, the youngest of three sons to the solicitor Charles Alfred Piper and his wife Mary Ellen Matthews.[5] During Piper's childhood, Epsom was still largely countryside. He went exploring on his bike, and drew and painted pictures of old churches and monuments on the way. He started making guide books complete with pictures and information at a young age. Piper's brothers both served in the First World War and one of them was killed at Ypres in 1915.[5]

John Piper attended Epsom College from 1919. He did not like the college but found refuge in art. When he left Epsom College in 1922, Piper published a book of poetry and wanted to study to become an artist. However, his father disagreed and insisted he join the family law firm, Piper, Smith & Piper in Westminster. Piper worked beside his father in London for three years, took articles but refused the offer of a partnership in the firm. This refusal cost Piper his inheritance but left him free to attend Richmond School of Art. At Richmond, the artist Raymond Coxon prepared him for the entrance exams for the Royal College of Art, which Piper entered in 1928. While studying at Richmond, Piper met Eileen Holding, a fellow student whom he married in August 1929.[5]


Piper disliked the regime at the Royal College of Art and left in December 1929. Piper and Holding lived in Hammersmith and held a joint exhibition of their artworks at Heal's in London in 1931. Piper also wrote art and music reviews for several papers and magazines. One such review, of the artist Edward Wadsworth's work, led to an invitation from Ben Nicholson for Piper to join the Seven and Five Society of modern artists.[5] In the following years Piper was involved in a wide variety of projects in several different media. As well as abstract paintings, he produced collages, often with the English landscape or seaside as the subject.[6] He drew a series on Welsh nonconformist chapels, produced articles on English typography and made arts programmes for the BBC. He experimented with placing constructions of dowelling rods over the surface of his canvases and with using mixtures of sand and paint.[7]

With Myfanwy Evans, Piper founded the contemporary art journal Axis in 1935. As the art critic for The Listener, through working on Axis and by his membership of the London Group and the Seven and Five Society, Piper was at the forefront of the modernist movement in Britain throughout the 1930s.[8] In 1935 Piper and Evans began documenting Early English sculptures in British churches. Piper believed that Anglo-Saxon and Romanesque sculptures, as a popular art form, had parallels to contemporary art.[8] Through Evans, Piper met John Betjeman in 1937 and Betjeman asked Piper to work on the Shell Guides he was editing. Piper wrote and illustrated the guide to Oxfordshire, focusing on rural churches. In March 1938 Stephen Spender asked Piper to design the sets for his production of Trial of a Judge. Piper's first one-man show in May 1938 included abstract paintings, collage landscapes and more conventional landscapes. His second in March 1940 at the Leicester Galleries, featuring several pictures of derelict ruins, was a sell-out.[5]

Piper had first met Myfanwy Evans in 1934 and early the next year, when Eileen Holding left Piper for another artist, the two moved into an abandoned farmhouse at Fawley Bottom in the Chilterns near Henley-on-Thames. The farmhouse had no mains electricity, no mains water and no telephone connection. Piper and Evans gradually converted the farm's out-buildings to studios for their artworks but it was not until the 1960s that they could afford to modernise the property.[9]

World War II[edit]

At the start of World War Two, Piper volunteered to work interpreting aerial reconnaissance photographs for the RAF but was persuaded by Sir Kenneth Clark to work as an official war artist for the War Artists' Advisory Committee, which he did from 1940 to 1944 on short-term contracts.[10] Piper was one of only two artists, the other being Meredith Frampton, commissioned to paint inside of Air Raid Precaution control rooms. Early in 1940 Piper was secretly taken to the ARP underground centre in Bristol where he painted two pictures.[11]

In November 1940 Piper persuaded the WAAC committee that he should be allowed to concentrate upon painting bombed churches. This may have reflected both his pre-war conversion to the Anglican faith as much as his previous interest in depicting derelict architectural ruins. The terms of this commission meant Piper would be visiting bombed cities, and other sites, as soon as possible following an air raid often "the following morning, before the clearing up".[12] Hence he arrived in Coventry the morning after the Coventry Blitz air raid of 14 November 1940 that resulted in 1000 casualties and the destruction of the medieval Coventry Cathedral. Piper made drawings of the cathedral and other gutted churches in the city which he subsequently worked up into oil paintings in his studio. Piper's first painting of the bombed cathedral, Interior of Coventry Cathedral, now exhibited at the Herbert Art Gallery, was described by Jeffery Daniels in The Times as "all the more poignant for the exclusion of a human element".[2] Piper's depiction of the east end of the Cathedral was printed as a post-card during the war and sold well. In 1962 the same image was used on cover of the official souvenir guide to the Cathedral."[2]

After the bombing raids of 24 November 1940 on Bristol, Piper arrived in the city a day, or possibly two, later. Although Piper only spent a few hours in the city the sketches he made did, by January 1941, result in three oil paintings of ruined churches, St Mary-le-Port, Bristol, The Temple Church and The Church of the Holy Nativity.[12] Piper also painted bombed churches and other buildings in London and Newport Pagnell and also spent a week painting in Bath after the Bath Blitz air raids in April 1942.[9][13] During the summer of 1941, Piper featured in a group exhibition with Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland at Temple Newsam in Leeds. The show was a great success, attracting some 52,000 visitors before touring to other English towns and cities.[2]

In 1943, the War Artists' Advisory Committee (WAAC) commissioned Piper to go to Blaenau Ffestiniog, to the disused slate mine where the paintings from the National Gallery had been evacuated for safety during the Blitz. Piper found conditions in the underground quarry too difficult to work in but did paint some landscapes in the immediate area. He also toured the region on bike, cycling and climbing to photograph and sketch buildings and views in Harlech, the Vale of Ffestiniog, on Cader Idris and on Aran Fawddwy.[14] Piper had previously visited Snowdonia in 1939,1940 and 1941 and would frequently return there after the war.[15][16]

Piper was also commissioned by WAAC to record a series of experiments on bomb shelter designs and land reclamation work. Alongside Vivian Pitchforth, he painted the bombed interior of the House of Commons.[17] In July 1944 WAAC appointed Piper to the full-time artist post vacated by John Platt at the Ministry of War Transport. In this role Piper painted rail and marine transport scenes in Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton and other south-coast locations.[13][18] Earlier in the war, he had also painted at the locomotive works in Swindon.[2]

Throughout the war Piper also undertook work for the Recording Britain project, initiated by Kenneth Clark, to paint historic sites thought to be at risk from bombing or neglect.[19][20] He also undertook some private commissions during the war. Viscount Ridley commissioned him to produce a series of watercolours of Blagdon Hall and this led to a commission from the Royal family for a series of watercolours of Windsor Castle and Windsor Great Park, which Piper completed by March 1942.[9] The King, George VI was unimpressed with the dark tone of the pictures and commented, "You seem to have very bad luck with your weather, Mr Piper".[7]

Sir Osbert Sitwell invited Piper to Renishaw Hall to paint the house and illustrate an autobiography he was writing. Piper made the first of many visits to the estate in 1942. The family retain 70 of his pictures and there is a display at the hall.[21] Piper painted a similar series at Knole House for Edward Sackville-West.[5] In 1943, Piper received the first of several poster commissions from Ealing Studios. His draft poster for the film The Bells Go Down featured a view of St Paul's Cathedral seen among monumental ruins.[22]

Later life[edit]

From 1950 Piper began working in stained glass in partnership with Patrick Reyntiens, whom he had met through John Betjeman.[23] Their first completed commission, for the chapel at Oundle School, led to Basil Spence commissioning them to design the stained-glass Baptistry window for the new Coventry Cathedral. They produced an abstract design that occupies the full height of the bowed baptistry, and comprises 195 panes, ranging from white to deep blue.[24] Piper and Reyntiens went on to design large stained-glass windows for the Chapel of Robinson College, Cambridge, and The Land Is Bright, a large window in the Washington National Cathedral, as well as windows for many smaller churches.[24]. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, completed in 1967, features an innovative stained glass lantern by Piper and Reyntiens. The lantern panels were cemented together with epoxy resin within thin concrete ribs, a technique invented for the job. Side chapels were also framed in glass to their designs.[25]

In 1966 Walter Hussey, the Dean of Chichester Cathedral commissioned Piper to produce a tapestry to enliven the dark area around the high altar of the Cathedral. Piper had designed the cope presented to Hussey when he left his previous post in 1955 and for Chichester he produced a very brightly coloured tapestry with an abstract design of the Holy Trinity flanked by the Elements and by the Evangelists.[8] Although the tapestry received a mixed, mostly negative, reaction from the public, Piper was commissioned to create a set of clerical vestments to complement the work in 1967.[8] Piper also created tapestries for Hereford Cathedral and Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.

Piper had made working visits to south Wales in both 1936 and 1939 and for several years, between 1943 and 1951, he would make an annual painting trip to Snowdonia. He did not paint in the Welsh mountains after 1951 but did visit, and paint in Aberaeron in 1954.[14] Piper's Snowdonia paintings and drawings were exhibited in New York in September 1947 and in May 1950, on both occasions at Curt Valentin's Buchholz Gallery. The former show was Piper's first large solo show in the United States.[14]

For the Festival of Britain in 1951, the Arts Council of Great Britain commissioned Piper to create a large mural, The Englishman's Home, which consisted of 42 plywood panels and depicted dwellings ranging from cottages to castles. The mural was displayed in a large open porch on the South Bank festival site.[26] Later in the 1950s, Piper produced pioneering designs for furnishing fabrics for Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd and David Whitehead Ltd, as part of a movement to bring art and design to the masses.[27]

Piper continued to write extensively on modern art in books and articles.[28][29][30] From 1946 until 1954, Piper served as a trustee of the Tate gallery.[1] Throughout the 1960s and 1970s he would regularly spend time painting in Pembrokeshire.[31] He was a theatre set designer, including for the Kenton Theatre in Henley-on-Thames. He designed many of the premiere productions of Benjamin Britten's operas at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Royal Opera House, La Fenice and the Aldeburgh Festival, as well as for some of the operas of Alun Hoddinott.[9] Piper also designed firework displays, most notably for the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977.[32]

After suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for some time, John Piper died at his home at Fawley Bottom, Buckinghamshire, where he had lived for most of his life. His children are the painters Edward Piper (deceased) and Sebastian Piper, and his grandchildren include painter Luke Piper and sculptor Henry Piper.

Piper's auction record, £325,250, was set at Sotheby's on 15 July 2008 for Forms on Dark Blue, a 3' by 4' oil painting made in 1936.[33]


The Tate collection holds 180 of Piper's works, including etchings and some earlier abstractions while other collections holding Piper's work include the Art Institute of Chicago, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, Dallas Museum of Art, National Galleries of Scotland, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Currier Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Manchester City Art Gallery, Norwich Museums, Pallant House Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Southampton City Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield, The Priseman Seabrook Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum and Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Major retrospective exhibitions have been held at Tate Britain (1983–84),[34] the Dulwich Picture Gallery,[35] the Imperial War Museum,[36] the River and Rowing Museum,[37][38]Museum of Reading and Dorchester Abbey. In 2012 a exhibition called John Piper and the Church, curated by Patricia Jordan Evans of Bohun Gallery, examined his relationship with the Church and his contribution to the development of modern art within churches.[39] In 2016, the Pallant House Gallery mounted an exhibition entitled John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism which focused on Piper’s textile designs.[27]

Published works[edit]

  • Oxfordshire, Shell Guide No. 11, 1938, (Faber & Faber),
  • British Romantic Artists, 1942, (Collins), published as Volume 34 of Britain in Pictures,
  • Buildings and Prospects, 1948, (London: Architectural Press), a collection of published articles,
  • Shropshire, A Shell Guide, 1951, with John Betjeman,[40]
  • Piper's Places: John Piper in England and Wales, 1983, with Richard Ingrams,(London: Chatto & Windus, The Hogarth Press) (ISBN 0-7011-2550-0).

Stained glass[edit]

Examples of stained glass designed by John Piper:


    1. ^ abMary Chamot, Dennis Farr, Martin Butlin (1964–65). The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, volume II. London: Oldbourne Press; cited at Artist biography: John PIPER b. 1903. Tate. Accessed February 2014.
    2. ^ abcdeFrances Spalding (2009). John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-956761-4. 
    3. ^Archaeology: A reference handbook by Alan Edwin Day, p. 254. ISBN 978-0-208-01672-0.
    4. ^Guide to Reference Books by Eugene P. Sheehy, p. 636. ISBN 978-0-8389-0390-2.
    5. ^ abcdefH. C. G. Matthew & Brian Harrison (eds) (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Vol. 44 (Phelps-Poston). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861394-6. 
    6. ^Tate. "Display caption: Beach with Starfish c.1933-34". Tate. Retrieved 30 November 2017. 
    7. ^ abLaura Cumming (19 November 2017). "John Piper; Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberte 1938-48 - review". The Observer. Retrieved 30 November 2017. 
    8. ^ abcdStefan van Raay, Frances Guy, Simon Martin & Andrew Churchill (2004). Modern British Art at Pallant House Gallery. Scala Publishers. ISBN 1857593316. 
    9. ^ abcdDavid Fraser Jenkins & Hugh Fowler-Wright (2016). The Art of John Piper. Unicorn & The Portland Gallery. ISBN 9781910787052. 
    10. ^Juliet Gardiner (2004). Wartime, Britain 1939-1945. Review/Headline Book Publishing. ISBN 0 7553 1028 4. 
    11. ^Art from the Second World War. Imperial War Museum. 2007. ISBN 978-1-904897-66-8. 
    12. ^ abMatthew Gale (1996). "Catelogue entry: St.Mary le Port, Bristol (1940)". Tate. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 
    13. ^ abBrain Foss (2007). War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10890-3. 
    14. ^ abcDavid Fraser Jenkins & Melissa Munro (2012). John Piper The Mountains of Wales - Paintings and Drawings from a Private Collection. National Museum of Wales. ISBN 9780720006186. 
    15. ^Melissa Munro (27 April 2012). "John Piper: A Journey Through Snowdonia". National Museum Wales. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
    16. ^"John Piper". Oriel Glyn-y-Weddw. 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
    17. ^Lynda Nead (18 September 2017). "How John Piper found beauty in bombed buildings". Art UK. Retrieved 12 September 2017. 
    18. ^Imperial War Museum. "War artists archive: John Piper". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
    19. ^Alan Sykes (27 March 2013). "Exhibition at Durham shows art commissioned during the dark days of the Blitz". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 September 2015. 
    20. ^Richard Humphreys (2001). Tate Britain Companion to British Art. Tate Publishing. ISBN 185 437 3730. 
    21. ^Frances Spalding (20 May 2010). "Ways With Words 2010: John Piper: a sombre yet fiery genius". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
    22. ^Art from the Second World War (2015 edition). Imperial War Museum. 2015. ISBN 978-1-904897-66-8. 
    23. ^Christ between St Peter & St Paul. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed February 2014.
    24. ^ abJudith Neiswander & Caroline Swish (2005). Stained & Art Glass, A Unique History of Glass Design and Making. The Intelligent Layman Publishers Ltd. ISBN 094779865X. 
    25. ^"Taking Stock - Catholic Churches of England & Wales". Patrimony Committee of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. 2017. Retrieved 3 July 2017. 
    26. ^Robert Upstone (17 February 2013). "Modern British Murals". Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 April 2017. 
    27. ^ ab"John Piper: the Fabric of Modernism". Pallant House Gallery. 2016. Retrieved 9 May 2016. 
    28. ^"The Listener articles 1933–"Young English Painters: Contemporary English Drawing"
    29. ^"Lost, A Valuable Object" an essay in Myfanwy Piper's anthology "The Painter's Object", 1937.
    30. ^"England's Early Sculptors", Architectural Review, 1937.
    31. ^Peter W. Jones & Isabel Hitchman (2015). Post War to Post Modern: A Dictionary of Artists in Wales. Gomer Press. ISBN 978 184851 8766. 
    32. ^John McEwan (September 2009). "Bad luck with the Weather". Standpoint. Retrieved 2 April 2017. 
    33. ^20th Century British Art sale[permanent dead link], Sotheby's.
    34. ^David Fraser Jenkins, John Piper, London: Tate Gallery Publications, 1983 (ISBN 0-905005-94-5)
    35. ^David Fraser Jenkins, & Frances Spalding, John Piper in the 1930s – Abstraction on the Beach, Merrell Publishers, 2003 (ISBN 1-85894-223-3).
    36. ^David Fraser Jenkins, John Piper – The Forties, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2000 (ISBN 0-85667-529-6).
    37. ^"John Piper – Master of Diversity". Archived from the original on 22 April 2001. Retrieved 25 April 2017.  exhibition, River and Rowing Museum, 2000.
    38. ^Jane Bowen (curator), John Piper Centenary: Crossing Boundaries, 2002 (ISBN 0-9535571-4-6).
    39. ^"John Piper and the Church", Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, 21 April - 10 June 2012. A celebration of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by The Friends of Dorchester Abbey.
    40. ^William S. Peterson. John Betjeman: A Bibliography. Oxford University Press. 

    Further reading[edit]

    • Bowen, Jane (curator), John Piper Centenary: Crossing Boundaries (2002) (ISBN 0-9535571-4-6).
    • Davis, Howard, A Great Job of Work For All Time. John Piper – Unknown Mosaicist, Andamento No. 3 (2009 [British Association for Modern Mosaic]) OCLC 226080837
    • Heathcote, David, A Shell Eye on England: The Shell County Guides 1934–1984 (Faringdon: Libri Publishing, 2010) (ISBN 978-1- 907471-07-0)
    • Jenkins, David Fraser, & John Piper, A Painter's Camera (London: Tate Gallery Publications, 1987) (ISBN 0-946590-81-8)
    • Jenkins, David Fraser, John Piper – The Robert and Rena Lewin Gift to the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1992) (ISBN 1-85444-025-X).
    • Levinson, Orde, Quality and Experiment: The Prints of John Piper — A Catalogue Raisonné 1932–91 (London: Lund Humphries Publishers, 1996) (ISBN 0-85331-690-2).
    • Powers, Alan, et al., Piper in Print (Artist's Choice Edition, 2010) (ISBN 978-0-9558343-2-5).
    • West, Anthony, John Piper (Secker & Warburg, 1979) (ISBN 0-436-56591-9).
    • Woods, S. John, John Piper Paintings Drawings & Theatre Designs 1932–1954 (New York: Curt Valentin, 1955)
    • Wortley, Laura, John Piper – Master of Diversity (Henley-on-Thames: River and Rowing Museum, 2000) (ISBN 0-9535571-1-1) OCLC 55970238
    • John Piper (1983, Tate Gallery)
    • John Piper, "Book illustration and the painter-artist", in Penrose Annual; 43 (1949), p. 52–54
    • John Piper and the Church exhibition catalogue, edited by Patricia Jordan Evans and Joanna Cartwright (2012)

    External links[edit]

    The Passage to the Control-room at South West Regional Headquarters, Bristol (Art. IWM ART LD 170)
    St Mary le Port, Bristol, 1940, (Tate)
    Shelter Experiments, near Woburn, Bedfordshire (Art. IWM ART LD 3859)
    Tapestry for Chichester Cathedral

    Somerset Place, Bath 1942


    Pencil, ink and gouache on Whatman paper
    489 x 760 (19 1/4 x 29 15/16)

    Inscribed in black ink 'John Piper' b.l.
    Watermark 'J WHATMAN' along bottom edge
    Printed War Artists Advisory Committee label, no. 1975

    Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

    ?National War Pictures, National Gallery, London 1942-3 (changing display, no cat.)
    War Pictures, 4th Selection, Museums' Association tour 1943-4, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Jan. 1943, Oldham Municipal Art Gallery, Feb., Bankfield Museum, Halifax, March-April, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, May, Mansfield Museum & Art Gallery, June, Stoke-on-Trent Public Museum & Art Gallery, July, Wolverhampton Municipal Museum & Art Gallery, Aug.-Sept., Hereford Public Library, Museum & Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct., Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, Oct.-Nov., Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Dec. 1943-Jan. 1944 (no cat.)
    War Pictures, 4th Selection, National Gallery, London, June 1944 (no number, repr. [p.4.] as Centre of Somerset Place)
    National War Pictures, Glasgow City Art Galleries, May-June 1945 (no cat.)
    National War Pictures, Royal Academy, London, Oct.-Nov. 1945 (223)
    Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery, British Council tour, 1946-7, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Jan.-Feb. 1946 (66), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, March (66), Raadhushallen, Copenhagen, April-May (66), Musée de Jeu de Paume, Paris, June-July (66), Musée des Beaux Arts, Berne, Aug. (67), Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, Vienna, Sept. (68), Narodni Galerie, Prague, Oct.-Nov. (68), Muzeum Narodne, Warsaw, Nov.-Dec. (68), Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Jan.-Feb. 1947 (68, as Lansdowne Crescent Seen from the Ruins of Lansdowne Chapel, Bath)
    Continental Exhibition: Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery Exhibited Under the Auspices of the British Council, Tate Gallery, London, May-Sept.1947; publication supplemented as Fifty Years Tate Gallery 1897-1947: Pictures from the Tate Gallery Foundation Gift and Exhibition of Subsequent British Painting, (no number)
    Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery, Arts Council tour 1947-8, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct.1947, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, Oct.-Nov., Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Nov.-Dec., Birkenhead, Williamson Art Gallery, Jan.1948, Bristol City Art Gallery, Jan.-Feb. 1948, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth, Feb-March, Brighton Art Gallery and Museum, March-April, Plymouth City Art Gallery, April-May, Castle Museum, Nottingham, May-June, Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery, June-July, Aberdeen Art Gallery, July-Aug., Salford Art Gallery and Museum, Aug.-Sept. (46, as Lansdowne Crescent Seen from the Ruins of Lansdowne Chapel, Bath)
    John Piper, Tate Gallery, London, Nov. 1983-Jan. 1984 (58)
    World War II, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Sept.-Nov. 1989 (55)

    Edith Hoffman, 'John Piper by John Betjeman', Burlington Magazine, vol.88, Jan. 1946, p.25
    Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.523
    John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, London 1958, p.114, repr. in col. p.115
    John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, London 1962, p.134, repr. in col. p.135
    Peter Fuller, 'John Piper: Neo-Romanticism in the 1980s', Modern Painters, vol.1, no.2, Summer 1988, pp.17-19, repr. p.18
    'John Piper: Obituary', Daily Telegraph, 30 June 1992, p.20

    Also reproduced: John Betjeman, John Piper, Harmondsworth 1944, pl.19 (col.)
    Eric Newton, War through Artists' Eyes, London 1945, p.78
    John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, London 1958, p.115 (in col.)
    Michael McNay, 'An End to Dull Theory', Design, no.253, Jan. 1970, p.104
    William Gaunt, A Concise History of English Painting, London 1964, p.243, pl.199 (in col.)
    Grey Gowrie, 'The Twentieth Century', David Piper (ed.), The Genius of British Painting, London 1975, p.326
    Boris Ford (ed.), Cambridge Guide to the Arts: Vol. 8 The Edwardian Age and the Inter-War Years, London 1989, p.180

    Piper's paintings of Bath were made as one of his commissions from the War Artists Advisory Committee and followed the German bombing of the city on the nights of 25, 26 and 27 April 1942. The attacks became known as the Baedeker raids, because the targets were cultural rather than strategic and were said to be selected from the pre-war Baedeker guide books. The artist was sent to Bath three days after the bombing ceased (E.M. O'Rourke Dickey, letter to Piper, 30 April 1942, Board Correspondence, Imperial War Museum), and later recalled: 'I think I went on 30th - there was certainly a hurry, I remember, and (again) ruins were still smouldering and bodies being dug out' (letter to Tate Gallery, 15 July 1958). He sketched in the Lansdown area, in the north-western heart of the Georgian city, where the damage was greatest and produced finished works from the sketches by 13 May.

    Somerset Place was built around 1790 by John Eveleigh as part of the Georgian developments; it runs on from, and is contemporary with, Lansdown Crescent, the site of All Saints Chapel. Piper's large watercolourSomerset Place was even more sober than the stricken All Saints Chapel, Bath (N05719), showing the buildings bleached and ghostly. A surviving ink and watercolour sketch Somerset Place, Bath, (after bombing) (repr. John Piper: Gouaches, Watercolours, exh. cat., Hamet Gallery, London 1969, no.4 on cover) established the characteristics of the image: the elevated viewpoint, the sweep of the crescent, the contrast between the apparently ordinary buildings to the right and the hole at the left. The final watercolour reused the gaping rear elevation seen through the building, and the cracked facade and diagonally sheared-off window. The two windows flanked by doors in the sketch were reduced to a single window and a broad doorway, this had the effect of enhancing the dramatic contrast between the hole and the elegant architecture.

    Somerset Place was painted on good quality watercolour paper (cream wove) which Piper had stretched on board using brown tape, strips of which remain around the irregularly cut edges. The washed treatment of the grey-green sky is consistent with the soaked paper, over which some architectural details were fixed in pale yellow gouache and black ink to follow visible pencil underdrawing (Tate Gallery conservation files). This included a line continuing the curve of the buildings across the broken space - emphasising the loss - and allowed the suggestion of the regular windows in the facade without laborious delineation. The offset hole is the focus, dramatised by the suggestive splatter of red. It is balanced by the fragile white balcony and by the more sketchy open segmental pediment. The latter was the subject of Centre of Somerset Place (Manchester City Art Gallery, repr. Neo-Romantics: Drawings and Watercolours, exh. cat. Imperial War Museum, London 1981, no.19), in which it is more obvious that the whole terrace was burnt out.

    The WAAC were pleased with the results and it is likely that both paintings subsequently given to the Tate joined the changing display of 'War Pictures' at the National Gallery. Their propaganda value was demonstrated by the explanation accompanying Somerset Place in the fourth War Pictures by British Artists selection (June 1944, [p.6]): 'John Piper ... went to Bath to record the affect of the brutal bombing of this lovely city by the frustrated Nazis out of revenge for the British attacks on German war factories. Here he has recorded how a beautiful eighteenth-century building has been marred by the savage onslaught.' After the war the WAAC distributed their paintings to public galleries; Somerset Place was restored as the Art School. Significantly, Piper's sympathetic record of the buildings was seen by Fuller as anticipating the architectural debate between development and conservation in the 1980s (Fuller 1988, pp.17-19).

    General issues relating to Piper's work in Bath are discussed in the entry on All Saints Chapel, Bath (Tate Gallery N05719).

    Matthew Gale
    August 1996

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