Beaux Arts will be presenting an overview of John Piper’s works spanning a remarkable career.
John Piper first shook the hearts of the British when he produced his paintings of bomb-damaged buildings. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was commissioned to capture the effects of the war on the British landscape and in 1944, he was appointed an official war artist.
Piper painted Bristol with fires still burning. The morning after the air raid that destroyed Coventry Cathedral, he was there - walking around with his paints under his arm, doing what he did and continued to do for the rest of his life: paint.
His first painting of the bomb damage Interior of Coventry Cathedral is now exhibited in the Herbert Art Gallery. This painting was described as ‘Britain’s Guernica’ by Jeffrey Daniels in The Times and ‘all the more poignant for the exclusion of a human element.’
In the early 1930s Piper exhibited with the London Group and became secretary of the Seven and Five Society which included Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. During a short period where he made numerous trips to Paris and mixed with the likes of Alexander Calder, Arp, Brancusi and Jean Hélion, Piper’s work reflected the trend for abstraction. However by 1947 he had already returned to a more naturalistic style.
In 1937 Piper married the writer and librettist Myfanwy Evans, who collaborated with him in most of his later stage designs for operas by Benjamin Britten.
A versatile artist, Piper painted decorations for the British embassy in Rio de Janeiro (1948), supervised the design of the Battersea Pleasure Gardens with Osbert Lancaster (1951) and also wrote articles on art and architecture. The Shell Guides (a series of illustrated books on the British Isles) were created with the poet John Betjeman and he produced pottery with Geoffrey Eastop.
What’s more he was commissioned to design stained glass windows for a number of buildings, including the new Coventry Cathedral. The latter was a collaboration he undertook with Patrick Reyntiens (an English stained glass artist) – fuelling his artistic output and representing a joyful expression of hope, particularly as he had witnessed and painted the destroyed, charred cathedral.
During his life John Piper became one of the most significant British artists of the 20th century, renowned for his romantic landscapes, views of ruined churches, stately homes and castles. Towards then end of his life he used to say that he had been in and out of fashion four times during his working career.
Piper died at his beloved home in Fawley Bottom, Buckinghamshire, in 1992.