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), Roofscape, Renishaw Hall, 1942-43


Watercolour, gouache and ink on paper
10½ x 21⅝ in (25.7 x 56 cm)
Signed and dedicated For George Dix, June 1956

Collection: Given by the artist to George Dix in 1956 and thence by descent to the present day

This drawing is connected and is probably the sketch for the large view of the subject done c.1942-43 (36 x 108 in size) in the Sitwell family collection at Renishaw. Piper was a frequent visitor to Renishaw during The War and found his visits a pleasant relief, at the time he was working as an official War Artist recording bomb damage. Frances Spalding describes the current work as an ’’absolute beauty and a perfect Renishaw watercolour’’.

The resulting oils and drawings were shown at The Leicester Galleries in 1945 -where there were 4 works entitled ‘Renishaw Roofscape’. Sir Osbert Sitwell wrote ’’Mr Piper has found a territory peculiarly suited to his sombre yet fiery genius….Thus in his roofscapes to coin a new word for a new kind of picture-the artist shows us the battlemented lines, so characteristic where every church, even ,and every wall, had to have its fortifications; for hardly a decade went by between the time when Robin Hood ranged the forest and that day, some five hundred years later, when the Young Pretender reached Derby as the furthest point on his projected way south, without such defences having to be manned. These battlements splinter with their ancient glory and black clouds and golden lights that come so naturally to this painter’s brush and in the landscapes he renders precisely the darkness and illuminated splendour of the countryside, its curious and lovely melancholy and the occasional rage of it’’.

The drawing is dedicated to Piper’s friend the art-dealer George Dix. Dix had been stationed in England during The War and became friendly with artists such as Piper, Keith Vaughan, John Minton and Henry Moore. Dix was subsequently a director of Durlacher Brothers Art Gallery in New York and did much to champion British Art in America. Dix was Piper’s dealer in America after the death of Curt Valentin.

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