John Piper, CH (1903-1992)

Piper was an English painter, print-maker and designer of stained glass windows 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 Richmond School of Art,  followed by the Royal College of Art, London. He turned from abstraction early in his career, concentrating on a more naturalistic approach. As well as being official war artist in World War II, he also collaborated with many others including the poets John Betjeman and Geoffrey Grigson on the Shell Guides and the artist Ben Nicholson. In later years he produced many limited edition prints.

John Piper, CH (1903-1992), The Slopes of Glyder-Fawr, Llyn Idwal, Caernarvonshire, 1948


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Canvas, 25 ¼ x 30 ¼ in (64 x 76.5 cm)

Collections: Given by the artist as a wedding present to his niece Joy Selby-Green in 1948 and thence by descent to the present day

This picture has been in the artist’s family since the year it was painted and has never been exhibited.

Immediately after The War Piper, Myfanwy and their young family began to spend time in a rented cottage in Nant-Ffancon, a dramatic glaciated valley in Snowdonia. The cottage had no electricity or running water, cooking had to be done on a primus stove and when it rained the building flooded. The Pipers spartan accommodation is reflected in the intensity of the pictures, where to coin King George VI’s celebrated remark the artist ‘’had bad luck with the weather’’.

Piper’s Snowdonia subjects are one of his longest and most sustained series and in David Fraser Jenkin’s opinion ‘’some of his best work.’’ The artist showed an Eighteenth Century zeal for the sublime saying ’’I felt that I was seeing the mountains for the first time and seeing them as nobody had seen them before. This was partly due to the feeling of release after the confining of The War, partly to a ‘spurt’ in my capacity to observe more clearly at this particular time. Each rock lying in the grass had a positive personality: for the first time I saw the bones and the structure and the ‘line’ of mountains, living with them and climbing them as I was, lying on them in the sun and getting soaked with rain in their cloud cover and enclosed in their improbable, private rock-world in fog’’(Piper’s Places 1983, p.105).

There is a better - known mixed media work on paper of the subject formerly owned by Kenneth Clark and now in the collection of The Whitworth Art Gallery ( repr. D. Fraser Jenkins and H. Fowler Wright The Art of John Piper 2015, fig.6.5). There is also a print of the view made in 1950.

We are most grateful to Hugh Fowler -Wright for his assistance with this entry.

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