John Piper (British, December 13, 1903–June 28, 1992) was a painter and book illustrator. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of Modern Art in Britain. Throughout his life, he wrote numerous articles and several books about Modern Art. Piper was born in Epsom, Surrey, and lived in Fawley Bottom, Buckinghamshire, UK, for most of his life.

As a boy, the artist rode his bicycle all over Surrey, and made sketches of churches and abbeys that he came across. He studied at Epsom College and was to join his solicitor father in his law practice, but it turned out Piper's heart wasn't in it, and upon the death of his father in 1927, Piper felt free to pursue a career in art. He went on to study art at the Richmond School of Art in London, UK. He then transferred to the Royal College of Art in South Kensington but eventually dropped out. He started out as an art and theatre critic as he tried to make it as an artist himself. During that time, he recognized the potential that artists such as Ivon Kitchens (British, 1893–1979) and William Coldstream (British, 1906-1987) had. Later on, Piper and his second wife started the Axis magazine, which was aimed at promoting Modern Art.

In 1931, his work started to be exhibited. Initially, his work had a strong Surrealist effect to it, thanks to influencers such as Georges Braque (French, 1882–1963) and Raoul Dufy (French, 1877–1953). After a trip to Paris, France, in 1934, Piper saw wire sculptures by Alexander Calder (American, 1898–1976) and experimented with the same medium when he got back home. During that trip, he also met Ben Nicholson (British, 1894–1982), who became a major influencer of his Abstract artwork. In 1938, Piper proclaimed that Abstraction was a luxury and returned to painting castles, piers, and churches. His best work was done in his distinct Romantic style. In 1944, he was the Official War Artist. One of his most famous works is the painting in which he depicted the bomb damage to the Coventry Cathedral. Later on, he collaborated with Nicholson, poet John Betjeman (British, 1904–1984), and potter Geoffrey Eastop (British, b.1921). Another one of his major works is the stained glass window in the Coventry Cathedral. His work has been shown at institutions such as the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the National Theatre in London, and the Tate Britain. Piper was a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission for 19 years. The artist died on June 28, 1992.

Timeline

John Egerton Christmas Piper was born at Epsom in 1903, the son of a solicitor. Educated at Epsom College, Piper joined the family firm as an articled clerk until his father’s death in 1925. In 1926, having abandoned the study of law, he attended Richmond School of Art, transferring to the Royal College of Art, South Kensington in 1927. Though regarded foremost as a painter (elected a member of the Seven and Five Society in 1934), Piper was also a set designer for ballet and opera productions and for stained glass windows, as well as being an art and theatre critic. He was also a masterful topographical draftsman with a passion for architecture, nurtured by his close personal and professional relationship with John Betjeman, with whom he collaborated on the Shell Guides to the British Isles
He was a valued member of the Royal Fine Art Commission for nineteen years, as well as a trustee of both the National and Tate Galleries. Piper met and became close friends with Benjamin Britten through writing for the Architectural Review, and worked with him on several musical productions. His first contact with the stage was in the 1930s with the Group Theatre Company. In 1937 he divorced his first wife Eileen Holding and married Myfanwy Evans.
Piper volunteered for the RAF in 1940, but was instead commissioned by the War Artist’s Advisory Committee and was appointed Official War Artist in 1944.
The work of John Egerton Christmas Piper is represented in Bolton Art Gallery, the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and Tate Britain, London.

Exhibitions

1992
Exhibition at Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
1990
Oriel 31 touring exhibition John Piper in Wales, with introduction by David Fraser Jenkins
1986–1990
Exhibitions of prints at Marlborough Graphics, CCA Galleries, Redfern Gallery, Oxford Gallery, Jersey Art Centre and in Toronto.
1986–1990
Exhibition at the National Theatre, London
1983
November. John Piper, Tate Gallery, with comprehensive catalogue edited by David Fraser Jenkins
1982
November. John Piper, Ceramics, Dan Klein Gallery (solo)
1982
December. John Piper, Painting in Coloured Light, Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge, introduction by Martin Harrison.
1979
May-June. Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, John Piper: 50 years of his work: paintings, drawings and photographs. 1920-79
1977
John Piper, Victorian Dream Palaces and Other Building in Landscape, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd
1975
September. John Piper, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd.
1974
August. Group exhibition Art Then. Eight English Artists; 1924-40, Scottish Arts Council.
1972
March. John Piper, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd
1969
May. John Piper, European Topography 1967-69, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd.
1967
March. John Piper, Retrospective Exhibition, Ulster Museum, Belfast and tour
1965
March. Group exhibition Axis, Circle, Unit One, Marlborough Fine Art.
1964
March. John Piper, Retrospective Exhibition, Marlborough New London Gallery. Preface by Robert Melville.
1963
March. Recent Work by John Piper, Marlborough New London Gallery.
1962
May. Paintings and Watercolours of Rome by John Piper, Arthur Jeffress Gallery (solo)
1961
May. Brittany, New Paintings by John Piper, Bear Lane Gallery, Oxford.
1960
May. Paintings and Watercolours of Venice by John Piper, Arthur Jeffress Gallery.
1959
November. John Piper, New Paintings and Gouaches, The Leicester Galleries
1955
May. Recent Work of John Piper, The Leicester Galleries (solo)
1953
John Piper, Retrospective Exhibition, Arts Council Gallery, Cambridge, catalogue by John Commander.
1951
February. John Piper, oils, gouaches, watercolours The Philadelphia Art Alliance, USA.
1951
November. Stones and Flowers, An Exhibition of New Pictures by John Piper, The Leicester Galleries (solo)
1948
December. New paintings and Drawings by John Piper, The Leicester Galleries
1946
Group exhibition British Contemporary Painters, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, USA.
1945
October. Group exhibition National War Pictures, Royal Academy.
1942
March. Group exhibition New Movements in Art, London Museum, Lancaster House.
1941
Retrospective exhibition of work 1932-1940.
1940
March. Paintings & Watercolours by John Piper, The Leicester Galleries. Subjects at Hafod (solo)
1940
June. Group exhibition at Lefevre Gallery
1940
July. Group exhibition British War Artists, National Gallery
1938
Group exhibition Abstract and Concrete, Oxford, organised by Nicolette Gray, and at Lefevre Gallery, April.
1938
April. Group exhibition Modern Pictures in Modern Homes, Duncan Miller Ltd
1938
September. Group exhibition Contemporary Lithographs, The Leicester Galleries
1937
Group exhibition Artists' International Association, 41 Grosvenor Square.
1937
July. Work reproduced in Circle. Group exhibition Constructive Art, The London Gallery.
1935
Exhibited constructions at Experimental Theatre, Finchley Road, reviewed by Hugh Gordon Porteus in AXIS 1
1935
October 7th exhibits at final and exclusively abstract exhibition of 7 & 5 Society, Zwemmer Gallery
1934
Exhibits with 7 & 5 Society at The Leicester Galleries (including 'String Solo')
1933
Exhibition of gouache and collage landscapes of South Coast at Lefevre Gallery (no catalogue)
1932
The London Group