John Piper Signed Prints & Originals

Biography for John Piper (1903 - 1992)

No other artist since Turner has done more to celebrate the British landscape and its architecture than John Piper. He was a complete artist who was inspired by all areas of artistic expression. John Piper's life was extraordinary in the true sense of real work and activity, real innovation, experiment and quality. He was also remarkable in being without arrogance, self-promotion or egotism. John Piper will be best remembered for his paintings and etchings of churches, castles and stately homes. But one mustn't forget that the legacy he has left Britain also includes murals, stain glass windows, tapestries, fabrics, ceramics, scenery and costumes for Opera, ballet and the theatre, books and photography.

John Egerton Christmas Piper was born in Surrey on December 13th 1903. The youngest of three sons, John Piper showed a keen interest in art from an early age, in particular landscape and architecture. By the age of 26 he had graduated from the Royal College of Art to marry fellow student Eileen Holding. A contemporary of such artists as Henry Moore, Ivon Hitchens, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash and Barbara Hepworth, John Piper spent the 1930's exhibiting regularly with the 'London Group' and the 'Seven and Five Society' and contributing articles for various periodicals and magazines. In 1934 with the art writer Myfanwy Evans (whom he later married in 1937) set up their own magazine 'Axis'. Also at this time John piper was collaborating with his friend the poet John Betjeman on the famous Shell Guides. During the War he was commissioned to record bomb damage, most notably in London, Bristol and Coventry and in 1944 John Piper became an official war artist. Nearly two hundred of John Pipers works reside in the Tate collection. Major retrospectives of John Piper's works have been held at Tate Britain, the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Imperial War Museum, to name but a few.

John Piper is arguably one of the most innovative twentieth-century print-makers, mastering every aspect of different print media. John Piper's extensive oeuvre of prints reflects the course of his life and the breadths of his interests. They cover every subject-matter of his creative life, displaying many of the shifts in his style: from the purely abstract prints to those showing an affinity with stained glass, set design, collages or drawing notes. Their subject-matter encompasses buildings (chapels, churches, mansions) ruins, gardens, flowers; foliate heads (John Piper's version of the Green Man), towns, mountains, the seaside, stones, and the human figure.

John Piper's earliest foray into printmaking included black and white woodcuts and wood-engravings. He then moved onto lithography and screen printing, creating such exquisitely executed screenprints as: 'Caernarvon Castle I', 1971, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Caernarvon Castle II', 1971, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. And 'Chambord', 1971, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Roof at Chambord', 1973, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Venice Composition', 1973, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. As within many of John Piper's works, in these screen prints he is indicating to the visitor points of interest, and is encouraging the armchair traveller to go out and explore.

Another fine example of John Pipers abilities as a draughtsman of landscape and architecture is evident in his 'Death in Venice' series of screen prints. As John Piper said "I am not interested in copying what is in front of me." He went on to say "I want to make a pictorial parallel for what I see, complete in itself and yet derived from nature-a lively symbol that seems to belong in a picture frame." The 'Death in Venice' portfolio consists of the screenprints from a selection of sketches for the scenery of Benjamin Britten's 1973 Opera, Death in Venice. They are: 'Death in Venice I', edition size 70, signed in pencil John Piper. 'Death in Venice II', edition size 70, signed in crayon John Piper. 'Death in Venice III', edition size 70, signed in crayon John Piper. 'Death in Venice IV', edition size 70, signed in pencil John Piper. 'Death in Venice V', edition size 70, signed in pencil John Piper. 'Death in Venice VI', edition size 70, signed in pencil John Piper. 'Death in Venice VII', edition size 70, signed in crayon John Piper. And 'Death in Venice VIII', edition size 70, signed in crayon John Piper.
As with Hepworth, Frink and other great artists of his generation, John Piper explored fertility and rebirth in his 'Foliate Head' series, where the image of the face (male or female) is made up of natural forms and shapes: the eyes, leaves; the nose a stone. The shapes, both floating and changing, all suggesting growth. Are beautifully portrayed in the signed screenprints: 'Foliate Heads I', 1975, edition size of 75, signed lower right in yellow crayon John Piper. 'Foliate Heads II', 1975, edition size of 75, signed lower right in blue-white crayon John Piper. And the lithograph signed prints 'Foliate Head' (Pink and Blue), 1976, edition size 90, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. And 'Foliate Head', 1979, edition size 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper.

The mythical Green Man is also explored in John Piper's 'The Seasons' series of etchings which include: 'Spring', 1981, edition size 100, signed lower right John Piper, is the first in the series, printed with a mixture of resin and carbonsodium powder producing both a relief and intaglio etching. 'Summer', 1981, edition size 100, signed lower right John Piper, is the second in the series, in 1985 a translation/interpretation of this image was woven as a tapestry. 'Autumn', 1981, edition size 100, signed lower right John Piper, printed with a mixture of resin and carbonsodium powder producing both a relief and intaglio etching. And 'Winter', 1981, edition size 100, signed lower right John Piper. And In 1983 'Foliate Head' was published, an etching and screenprint, edition of 100 and signed lower right in pencil John Piper.

1977 saw the publication of some of John Pipers greatest architectural works. Magnificent majestic images of England's grandest stately homes are seen in such signed screenprints as: 'Capesthorne', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right John Piper. 'Harlaxton (Blue)', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right John Piper. 'Harlaxton Manor', 1977, edition size 70, signed lower right John Piper. 'Exeter College Chapel, Oxford', 1977, edition size 100, signed lower right John Piper. And the series of eight screenprints 'Victorian Dream Palaces' which include the signed prints: 'The Royal Holloway College', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'The Royal Holloway College', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Ettington Park', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Wightwick Manor', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Harlaxton through the Gate', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Milton Ernest Hall', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Shadwell Park', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Kelham Hall', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. And 'Flintham Hall', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. Two further superb examples that reside in the Tate Galleries print collection are: 'Waddesdon', 1977, edition size 75, signed lower right John Piper. And 'Five Gates of London', 1978, edition size 75, signed lower right John piper.

In 1982 the fine series of etchings 'Scotney Castle, Kent' was printed and then published in 1983. As quoted by John Piper "I know perfectly well that I would rather paint a ruined abbey half-covered in ivy and standing among long grass than I would paint it after it has been taken over by the Office of Works, when they have taken all the ivy off and mown all the grass with an Atco. And also I would rather paint a new house when it is twenty years old than when it's new. You can call it reaction, or prejudice, or anything you like-but sitting down to paint a new house would give me the same feeling as sitting down to paint a new-born baby. It's just one of those things I'd rather not do.

Wrought-iron lamps, gates and balustrades, station hotels in fading brick, expanses of promenade with a shelter or two - all the things that are usually referred to as the 'egregious architectural excess of Victorian era' - all these things have lately fallen into the lap of the painter of architecture. It is not a question of tastes. It is not a vague searching-after-something-new-to-admire that makes me like them as subjects. It is the fact that time has presented them to us as splendid subjects, as things of beauty, as part of a valuable tradition." The series include: 'Scotney Castle I', 1982, edition size 50, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Scotney Castle II', 1982, edition size 50, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Scotney Castle III', 1982, edition size 50, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Scotney Castle IV', 1982, edition size 50, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Scotney Castle V', 1982, edition size 50, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Scotney Castle VI', 1982, edition size 50, signed lower right in pencil John Piper.

John Piper's words are also echoed in the screenprints that were published the following year: 'Babingley Church, Norfolk', 1983, edition size 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire', 1983, edition size 150, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire', 1983, edition size 150, signed lower right in pencil John Piper.

John Pipers extermination and quality shines through in his 1983 print series 'Eightieth Anniversary Portfolio'. Consisting of three etchings, four screenprints and one combined etching and screen print, a dramatic and colourful mix of works that include: 'Foliate Head' (Plate I), etching and screenprint, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Eye and Camera' (Plate II), etching, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Plazzo Pesaro' (Plate III), etching, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'St Germain-de-L'Ivret (Plate IV), screenprint, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Blenheim Gates' (Plate V), etching, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Eastnor Castle' (Plate VI), screenprint, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Saltash Bridge' (Plate VII), screenprint, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Lower Brockhampton' (Plate VIII), screenprint, edition of 75, signed lower right in pencil John Piper.

"The wall is the universal Exhibitor" quotes John Piper "and has been from the time when mammoths were scratched on the walls of prehistoric caves. If you consider the way people at any time have dealt with walls (in medieval times, for example), you see how everything that is embedded in them, or depends from them, is indicative of the period's art. The Romanesque arch, or wall-arcade, is the perfect geometrical wall object. At its most elaborate it could be no less fussy than a Victorian overmantel mirror. The medieval architect took every opportunity of objectifying his walls. Wall-tombs, wall-paintings, door-cases, window-frames, cornices, wall-arcades, sedilias, reredoses, corbels, gargoyles, niches with figures, flying buttresses - every wall, outside and in, was plastered with things." Very fine examples of 'the wall is the universal exhibitor' are: 'Holme, Nottinghamshire', screenprint, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Long Sutton', screenprint, edition of 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Clamecy, Burgundy', etching, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Gothic Folly, Stowe', screenprint, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Sunningwell, Oxfordshire', screenprint, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Walsoken, Norfolk', screenprint, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'The Geffrye Museum', screenprint, edition of 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Ruishton', screenprint, edition of 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Huish-Episcopi', screenprint, edition of 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'Stansfield', screenprint, edition of 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. 'The Pebble Alcove, Stowe', screenprint, edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil John Piper.

In 'The Practical Business of Painting' John Piper describes his approach to painting "The nearest I can get to describing what I try to do in painting is to say that I want to make a pictorial parallel for what I see, complete in itself and yet derived from nature-a lively symbol that seems to belong in a picture frame ... I draw in pencil, black and coloured inks, chalks (both pastel and greasy-crayon kind), water-colour, gouache and oils. All except the last I sometimes combine in one work. I see no reason why gouache should not be combined with water-colour in the same work, though it is against traditional and conventional practise.

As a rule, I use inks and water-colours out-of-door, sometimes adding several pages of written notes, or sketched notes, about colours and tones, relative shapes and proportions of parts of a subject. All these I take home and, at leisure, with the aid of 'squaring up' (making relatively-sized squares of the same number on the original drawing and on the larger canvas), and with the aid, too, of all the paraphernalia of a home-studio (easel, brushes, turpentine and linseed oil, large palette of glass or metal, rags, constant and well-known light) paint in oils from them.

John Piper's glorious use of colour is vividly evident in the screenprints: 'Blenheim Palace', edition of 100, signed lower right in pencil John Piper. And 'Waddesdon', edition of 70, signed lower right in pencil, John Piper.

The striking range of John Pipers style and subject matter, his precocity with technique is evident in all his works right up until the end. Utterly without pretension, John Piper has left us a legacy of works that gently guides us to view (not record) objects that we have never noticed before; neglected masterpieces of architecture, monuments in churches by Gibbons, corbels at Kilpeck, Victorian 'Dream Palaces' before they became fashionable. Osbert Sitwell attributed a new description to a section of Pipers work, the so-called '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...'.

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