John Piper (artist)

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John Piper
John Piper Middle Mill.jpg
Middle Mill, Pembrokeshire, 1982
Born John Egerton Christmas Piper
(1903-12-13)13 December 1903
Epsom, Surrey, UK
Died 28 June 1992(1992-06-28) (aged 88)
Fawley Bottom, Buckinghamshire, UK
Nationality British

Richmond School of Art

Royal College of Art
Known for Painting, Printmaking
The Baptistry Window at Coventry Cathedral, designed by John Piper.

John Egerton Christmas Piper CH (13 December 1903 – 28 June 1992) was an English painter, printmaker and designer of stained-glass windows. Much of his work is characterised by churches and monuments. He was an official war artist in World War II.


John Piper was born in Epsom, Surrey, in 1903, the son of solicitor Charles Piper. He was educated at Epsom College and trained at the Richmond School of Art, followed by the Royal College of Art in London.[1] He turned from abstraction early in his career, concentrating on a more naturalistic but distinctive approach.

As a child, Piper lived in Epsom, at that time in the countryside. He went exploring on his bike, and drew and painted pictures of old churches and monuments on the way. He started making guide books complete with pictures and information at a young age. He studied at Epsom College. He did not like the college but found refuge in the art school. When he left Epsom College, Piper wanted to go to art school, to study to become an artist. However, his father disagreed and wanted him to be a solicitor. They agreed that John Piper would work for his father in London for three years, and then could pursue whatever career he chose. He failed the law exams and his father died soon after, leaving him free to become an artist. His work often focused on the British landscape, especially churches.

Piper was appointed an official war artist in World War II from 1940–1942.[1] The morning after the air raid that destroyed Coventry Cathedral, Piper produced his first painting of bomb damage, Interior of Coventry Cathedral now exhibited at the Herbert Art Gallery. Jeffery Daniels in The Times described the painting of the ruins as "all the more poignant for the exclusion of a human element". It has been described as "Britain's Guernica".[2]

Piper collaborated with many others, including the poets John Betjeman and Geoffrey Grigson (on the Shell Guides[3][4]), and with potter Geoffrey Eastop and artist Ben Nicholson. In later years he produced many limited-edition prints.

Sir Osbert Sitwell invited Piper to Renishaw Hall to paint the house and illustrate an autobiography he was writing and Piper made his first of many visits to the estate in 1942. The family retain 70 of his pictures and there is a display at the hall.[5]

From 1950 Piper worked in stained glass in partnership with Patrick Reyntiens, whom he had met through John Betjeman.[6] They designed the stained-glass windows for the new Coventry Cathedral, and later for the Chapel of Robinson College, Cambridge. Washington National Cathedral prominently features his large window, "The Land Is Bright". He designed windows for many smaller churches and created tapestries for Chichester Cathedral and Hereford Cathedral. He was a set designer for the theatre, including the Kenton Theatre in Henley and Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff. He designed many of the premiere productions of Benjamin Britten's operas at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Royal Opera House, La Fenice and the Aldeburgh Festival, as well as for some of the operas of Alun Hoddinott. In 2012 a major exhibition 'John Piper and the Church' examined his relationship with the Church and his contribution to the development of modern art within churches.[7] Piper wrote extensively on modern art in books and articles.[8][9][10][11] With his wife, Myfanwy Piper, he founded the contemporary art journal, Axis.

On 28 June 1992 John Piper died at his home at Fawley Bottom, Buckinghamshire, where he had lived for most of his life. His children are painters Edward Piper (deceased) and Sebastian Piper, and his grandchildren include painter Luke Piper and sculptor Henry Piper.

His auction record, £325,250, was set at Sotheby's on 15 July 2008 for "Forms on Dark Blue", a 3' by 4' oil painting made in 1936.[12]


180 of his works are in the Tate collection, including etchings and some earlier abstractions. Major retrospective exhibitions have been held at Tate Britain (1983–1984),[13] the Dulwich Picture Gallery,[14] the Imperial War Museum,[15] the River and Rowing Museum,[16][17] Museum of Reading and Dorchester Abbey, "John Piper and the Church", curated by Patricia Jordan Evans of Bohun Gallery.

Stained glass[edit]

Examples of stained glass designed by John Piper:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr, Martin Butlin (1964–65). The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, volume II. London: Oldbourne Press; cited at Artist biography: John PIPER b. 1903. Tate. Accessed February 2014.
  2. ^ "In Search of England". British Masters. Series 2. 18 July 2011. BBC. 
  3. ^ Archaeology: A reference handbook by Alan Edwin Day, page 254. ISBN 978-0-208-01672-0.
  4. ^ Guide to Reference Books by Eugene P. Sheehy, page 636. ISBN 978-0-8389-0390-2.
  5. ^ Frances Spalding, "Ways With Words 2010: John Piper: a sombre yet fiery genius", The Telegraph, 20 May 2010. Retrieved 1 January 2013
  6. ^ Christ between St Peter & St Paul. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed February 2014.
  7. ^ "John Piper and the Church", Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, 21 April - 10 June 2012. A celebration of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by The Friends of Dorchester Abbey.
  8. ^ "The Listener articles 1933–"Young English Painters: Contemporary English Drawing"
  9. ^ "Lost,A Valuable Object" an essay in Myfanwy Piper's anthology "The Painter's Object" 1937
  10. ^ "England's Early Sculptors", Architectural Review, 1937.
  11. ^ 'British Romantic Artists' essay in the series "The British People in Pictures" 1940
  12. ^ 20th Century British Art sale, Sotheby's.
  13. ^ Jenkins, David Fraser, John Piper, London: Tate Gallery Publications, 1983 (ISBN 0-905005-94-5).
  14. ^ Jenkins, David Fraser & Spalding, Frances, John Piper in the 1930s – Abstraction on the Beach, Merrell Publishers, 2003 (ISBN 1-85894-223-3).
  15. ^ Jenkins, David Fraser, John Piper – The Forties, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2000 (ISBN 0-85667-529-6).
  16. ^ John Piper – Master of Diversity at the Wayback Machine (archived 22 April 2001) exhibition, River and Rowing Museum, 2000.
  17. ^ Bowen, Jane (curator), John Piper centenary Crossing boundaries, 2002 (ISBN 0-9535571-4-6).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]