John Egerton Christmas Piper 1903 – 1992
July 02, 2010
‘Piper suffered digestive problems around 1963 and, on Edward Benjamin Britten 1st Baron Britten’s recommendation, began seeing Dr Michael Macready, a homeopathic doctor in Belgrave Square, who advised a diet that forbade milk, butter, and eggs‘.
Piper was also a friend of Christopher Isherwood,
John Piper, the son of a solicitor (youngest, by six years, of the three sons of Charles Alfred Piper and his wife), was born in Epsom in 1903. He was educated at Epsom College and trained at the Richmond School of Art, followed by the Royal College of Art in London. He turned from abstraction early in his career, concentrating on a more naturalistic but distinctive approach.
As a child, John Piper lived in Epsom which was , in those days, in the countryside. He would go exploring on his bike, and would draw and paint pictures of old churches and monuments on the way. He started making his own guide books at a young age, complete with pictures and information.
When it came to finishing at Epsom College Piper wanted to go to art school, to study to become an artist. However, Piper’s father Charles disagreed, and wanted him to be a solicitor like himself. They formed an agreement that John Piper would work for his father in London for three years, and then could pursue whatever career he chose. However, John failed the Law exams. Charles Piper died soon after, so John was free to become an artist.
Piper was appointed an official war artist in World War II from 1940-1942. He collaborated with many others, including the poet John Betjeman (on the Shell Guides), as well as with the potter Geoffrey Eastop and the artist Ben Nicholson. In later years he produced many limited-edition prints.
His work often focused on the British landscape, especially churches. Along with Patrick Reyntiens he designed the stained glass windows for the new Coventry Cathedral. He also designed windows for many smaller churches.
Piper created tapestries for Chichester Cathedral and Hereford Cathedral. He was a set designer for the theatre, including the Kenton Theatre, a theatre in Henley, Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, the Royal Opera House for a production of Edward Benjamin Britten 1st Baron Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and for the operas of Alun Hoddinott.
In 1929 he left to marry fellow student, Eileen Holding. The early 30’s saw him forming friendships with such artists as Henry Moore, Ivon Hitchens, Ben Nicholson and Paul Nash. He exhibited regularly with the London Group and the 7 & 5 Society and was also writing articles for various periodicals & magazines.
Piper also wrote extensively on modern art in books and articles. With his wife, Myfanwy Piper, he founded the contemporary art journal, Axis.
182 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), the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Imperial War Museum, the River and Rowing Museum and the Museum of Reading.
An operation in 1987 left him visibly damaged, he was also suffering from the onset of Alzheimers. He died at his home in Fawley Bottom, Oxfordshire on the 28th of June 1992.