Piper, John: Cardiganshire Hillside
A large scale oil painting in excellent condition with a sense of drama, though mediated by the use of soft shapes, a subtle palette and careful mark making. The sun-caught buildings provide a sharper focus which serves to emphasise the remoteness of the setting and its location. The overall effect is to create a wonderful sense of the movement and flow of the Cardiganshire countryside.
Originally presented by Marlborough Fine Art, the painting was then offered through the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I am grateful to Hugh-Fowler Wright for the following interpretation of the painting, Hugh is the author, with David Fraser Jenkins, of ‘The Art of John Piper’, 2016, and with Alan Powers, of ‘Piper in Print: John Piper’s Books, Periodicals, Ephemera and Textiles’, 2010.
‘This substantial oil was painted by John Piper in his early 70s, a period when his confident topographical works were being strongly marketed and eagerly purchased via his dealers Marlborough Fine Art. It was included as picture number 8 in his solo exhibition of new work at their galleries at 6 Albemarle Street, London in September 1975. The generous A4 format catalogue illustrated it in colour. It was also reproduced as colour plate 24 in Anthony West’s 1979 biography of John Piper – although unhelpfully printed upside down – and dated 1970! Finally, the painting was illustrated in colour as plate 28 in the Cardiff Festival of 20th Century Music. John Piper: Early and Recent Pictures.
John Piper had initially explored Cardiganshire in the summer of 1939 when visiting the somewhat forgotten ruined estate of Hafod set within what is also known as the ‘desert’ of Wales. Piper was attracted to this remote landscape which was extensively, in turns, both wild and barren. Here he was first drawn to the hills of Wales that naturally then took him and his artistic eye northwards to Snowdonia in the mid and later 1940s where the hills become fully fledged mountains.
In 1961 he purchased a holiday home on Garn Fawr north of St. David’s and from this base he returned his attention to Cardiganshire. Research for the Shell Guide books of Wales and a love of the varied yet distinctive Welsh chapels also strengthened his familiarity with many remote parts of the country.
In 1974 the region known as Cardiganshire became part of the district of Ceredigion in the larger county of Dyfed. However, Piper still uses the former nomenclature probably to indicate he did not wish to rush to change the overt description of a landscape he had known for some 35 years.
In the painting, he captures the sunlight striking two small clusters of whitewashed buildings set in the emerald sea of verdant rolling hills loosely constrained by black field boundaries. The painting is largely impressionistic with flecks of vegetation, occasional tree ‘dots’ along hedge rows and yellow crops helping to enliven the viewer’s reading of the scene which is near Lampeter.’
More images can be provided on request.
Artist: John Piper (British, 1903-1992), signed lower right
Title and date: Cardiganshire Hillside, 1975
Size: 83.8 x 106.7 cms.
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.