John Piper (1903-1992)
Widely considered to be one of the most significant artists of the 20th century John Piper was born in the spa town of Epsom, Surrey in 1903. The youngest of three brothers Piper spent much of his childhood exploring and painting the local countryside and structures. Following the death of his father in 1927 Piper was able to follow his creative desires by enrolling at the Richmond School of Art but left without graduating in 1929.
During the 1930’s he held various exhibitions in London and became involved in the Seven and Five Society of modern artists and the London Group surrounding himself with avant-garde artists to include Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. This no doubt influenced his work and it is during this period he experimented with different materials creating collages and abstract work.
In 1935 he relocated to an abandoned farmhouse in Fawley Bottom with acclaimed British art critic and opera librettist Myfanwy Piper (1911-1997) who he would later marry. Together they founded the art magazine Axis and Piper found himself at the forefront of the modernist movement in Britain.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War II in 1939 Piper became an official war artist for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee spanning the years 1940 – 44. It was during this harrowing period he further developed his interest and passion for depicting architectural structures. However, gone were the derelict ruined chapels, instead replaced by recently bombed churches and buildings captured with the devastation still hanging tragically in the air.
In 1962 John and Myfanwy purchased a suitably ruined studio near Garn Fawr in Pembrokeshire. Situated at the foothill of a crag, and a stone’s throw from the magnificent views of the North Pembrokeshire coast and Strumble Head, it was an idyllic retreat for the couple when visiting Wales and the perfect place for Piper to further hone his exceptional skill as a landscape artist.
It was just a few hundred yards away from this location, that in the Autumn of last year I was excitedly called in to assess an original artwork by John Piper, brought about by our international reputation for selling British art;
I made the enjoyable trip from home (Carmarthen) to the outskirts of Fishguard and with Piper’s studio visible from the house, I entered and set eyes on a never-before seen work by the vendors previous neighbour and friend, John Piper.
The signed and dated work on paper depicted a wonderfully moody and dramatic composition of nearby St Davids in watercolour, ink, and gouache and arrived in beautiful condition with glorious provenance. The painting was a gift from the artist to the vendor's late husband in 1980. John & Myfanwy Piper owned two cottages with accompanying land, and they permitted the vendors to graze sheep on the Piper's land. In turn the vendor's husband kept the hedges, bracken and gorse under control while ensuring the water was flowing freely to the artist's cottage.
The vendor recalled '... the picture was their amazing gift to my husband for his many kindnesses which he really considered to be an honour to carry out.'
A fresh-to-market original work by an artist of such significance coupled with cast-iron provenance is a rare occurrence and led us to set a pre-auction estimate of £10,000-£15,000.
In the lead up to the sale the painting made its way back West to the National Botanic Garden of Wales where it was showcased alongside none other than Salem No II and an original work in oils by Sir Kyffin Williams. It was no surprise to me that this exquisite work garnered just as many admirers as these two icons of Welsh art history.
Follow the links below to hear (in Welsh) our Welsh art ambassador Arfon Haines Davies discuss this work of St Davids in more detail:
and watch auctioneer Ben Rogers Jones find a new home for this wonderful piece on auction day:
John Piper’s talents extend over a multitude of disciplines including printmaking, stained glass production and theatre and opera set design. We are delighted to regularly handle original works, limited edition prints and literature containing his wonderful illustrations.
If you have any work by John Piper, you would like appraising for possible sale or to obtain an up to date insurance valuation please don’t hesitate to get in touch.