British painter, draughtsman, collagist, printmaker, designer, illustrator, photographer and writer, John Piper was born in Epsom in 1903. He worked as an articled clerk from 1921 to 1926, then went on to study at the Richmond School of Art under Coxon in 1926. From 1927 to 1929 he studied painting under Martin Kestleman and stained glass under Francis Spear at the Royal College of Art.
Piper exhibited at the London Group from 1931 and from 1933, he wrote criticism for the New Statesman and The Listener. In 1934, as he was beginning to make abstract constructions, he became a member and, subsequently secretary of the Seven and Five Society. Among his contemporaries were Ivon Hitchens, John Betjeman, Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Frances Hodgkins. In 1940 Piper worked on the Recording Britain scheme and painted scenes of war damaged churches for the WAAC, becoming an Official War Artist in 1944.
During the 1940s, Piper’s commissions included a series of works of Renshaw Hall for Sir Osbert Sitwell and of Windsor Castle for Her Majesty the Queen. He continued to work widely on commissions and increasingly on stained glass designs including windows for Coventry Cathedral (1957- 1961) and the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (1963-1970).
Piper exhibited extensively, holding solo exhibitions from 1933 in many leading London galleries. His stage designs were commissioned for a number of major productions, among them Benjamin Britten’s “Albert Herring” and “Death in Venice”. Piper was a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1946 to 1961 and from 1968 to 1974. He was also a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission from 1960 to 1977 and in 1972, he was awarded the Companion of Honour.
Initially a landscape artist, Piper turned to abstraction in 1934 but by 1936 had returned to figurative painting, in particular topographical subjects. He developed a romantic, idiosyncratic style which combined a range of rich, strongly contrasted passages of color, rapidly drawn sharp lines and varied textures. In later works the detail is more abbreviated and the color emotional and tense.