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John Piper
British (1903-1992)

John Piper was born in Epsom, Surrey in 1903. The youngest of three sons, Piper showed a keenness for art at an early age and a particular interest in landscape and architecture. On leaving school his desire to be a painter was hampered by an obligation to work as a clerk at his father’s firm of solicitors. Following his father’s death in 1926 he was free to follow his vocation. He entered the Richmond School of Art and a year later the Royal College of Art where he studied painting under Martin Kestleman and stained glass under Francis Spear. In 1929 he left to marry fellow student, Eileen Holding.

The early 1930’s saw him forming friendships with such artists as Henry Moore, Ivon Hitchens, Ben Nicholson and Paul Nash. He exhibited regularly with the London Group from 1931 and also wrote articles for the New Statesman and The Listener.

In the summer of 1934 after meeting the art writer Myfanwy Evans – whom he later married in 1937 set up their own magazine ‘Axis’. Around this time he also collaborated with his friend the poet John Betjeman on the famous Shell Guides. During the war years he was commissioned to record bomb damage, most notably London, Bristol and Coventry. In 1944 he was made an official war artist.

c He developed a romantic idiosyncratic style which combined a range of rich, strongly contrasted passages of colour, rapidly drawn sharp lines and varied textures. In later works the detail is more abbreviated and the colour emotional and intense.

Best known for his topographical work of Churches, Castles and Stately Homes, he was also an author of books, prolific photographer, etcher, printmaker, designer of scenery and costumes for opera, ballet and theatre, created murals and stained glass for schools, colleges, churches and cathedrals as well as designs for tapestries and fabrics and in later years began making ceramics.

He exhibited extensively, holding solo exhibitions from 1933 onwards in many leading London galleries and his work is represented widely in public collections including the Tate Gallery. He was a trustee of the Tate Gallery (1946-61 and 1968-74) and a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission (1960-77) and was awarded the Companion of Honour in 1972. He died at his home in Fawley Bottom, Oxfordshire in 1992.

Initially a landscape artist, he turned to abstraction in 1934 but by 1936 had returned to figurative painting, in particular topographical subjects.

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