Piper, John: Baths of Caracalla


A lovely original work, a flowing watercolour and pastel with pencil and wax crayon giving us a Piper-eye view of the ruins of the ‘Baths of Caracalla’ in near the Appian Way in Rome.

I am immensely grateful for the following description to Hugh Fowler-Wright, the well-known Piper expert and co-author (with David Fraser Jenkins), of ‘The Art of John Piper’, published by Unicorn and the Portland Gallery in 2015:
‘John Piper visited Rome for 3 weeks in mid-February 1961 to produce enough work for a commissioned exhibition at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery in May 1962. This is one of many on the spot works – unlike some of the larger oils made back home in his Fawley Bottom studio – where he is focussed on capturing the feeling for the time and the place rather than any particular topographical accuracy.
In such a brief visit Piper concentrated on depicting well-known locations and features. Here he summarises the substantial brick Baths of Caracalla which were originally built in AD 216 in a 60 acre former garden for the daily use by over 6,000 bathers. It was subsequently abandoned, some 300 years later, then damaged by an earthquake and plundered for the bricks and stones for newer buildings elsewhere. The layering of natural and enforced decay onto a former magnificent structure would have been the irresistible factors that drew Piper to the location. Piper places the bulk of the surviving Bath house in the upper centre viewed across roads and garden. The whole technique is deliberately rapid to capture impressions of the ancient remains nestled in the ever changing encroaching nature and city.’

Built between 212 and 216 the baths were completed under the direction of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, more commonly known as Emperor Caracalla. Covered with marble and decorated with valuable works of art, the Baths of Caracalla were the most sumptuous and most spectacular thermal complexes to be built in ancient times.

The baths served as inspiration for many other notable buildings, both ancient and modern including the Baths of Diocletian, the Basilica of Maxentius, the original Penn(sylvania) Station in New York City, Chicago Union Station and the Senate of Canada Building.

More images can be provided on request.

Artist: John Piper (British, 1903-1992), signed lower left

Title and date: Baths of Caracalla, dated 25.02.61

Size: image size – 29.0 x 34.0 cms., framed size – 36 x 54 cms.


Artist description:

Born in Epsom, John Egerton Christmas Piper studied at Richmond School of Art and the Royal College of Art from 1926-8. In the mid 1930a, after a visit to Paris, he turned to abstraction. He became a member of the London Group in 1933 and the ‘Seven and Five’ group in 1934-5. During this period he became friends with Oliver Simon of the Curwen Press and his interest in lithography and print making grew. During the Second World War, Piper was appointed as an official war artist recording the effects of the blitz on Britain’s buildings. After the war, he became a Trustee of the Tate and National Galleries and in 1959 he became a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission. Piper is best known for his extensive studies of British architecture and landscape in oil, watercolour and print, and for his photography, stained glass, ceramics, fabric design, murals, stage sets and costume design. His work is held in many Museums and Galleries.