Piper, John: Orcop, Herefordshire – (Price on Application)

This is a classic John Piper mixed media painting in both form amd content. He takes one of his favourite and most successful themes, a country church in a landscape, then transforms it into a dramatic, dynamic and magical composition at the edge of abstraction, making wonderful use of colour and perfectly-judged mark making. We have never offered a better work by John Piper.

The painting is in excellent condition, the original high quality gilt framed has been retained, the painting has been professionally cleaned, remounted and provided with conservation-quality glass. Labels to the rear record its original presentation at Marlborough Fine Art after which it was offered at the Peter Wenning 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.

‘John Piper first explored and recorded Herefordshire in April 1936 when seeking out to record early stained glass and Romanesque sculpture, visiting Kilpeck some 5 miles from Orcop. He subsequently revisited the county many times and was friends with Kenneth Lindley who in 1973 was the Principal of Hereford Art College.

This attractive 1973 mixed media painting is typical of John Piper’s early 1970s works made for sale through Marlborough Fine Art who had represented him from 1963. The church sits squarely within the composition where some sunlight picks up on the lighter pink tones of the local sandstone used to build the nave and chancel. This contrasts with the darker Welsh slate roof and weathered timbers of the distinctive bell tower. A scattering of grey slab gravestones serves to give a foreground and dark green trees and vegetation act to frame the church below a few squiggles enlivening the otherwise brooding sky.

The ‘formula’ used for composition and technique may appear straightforward and typical of John Piper yet they are carried out with a deft confidence stemming from years of observing how buildings sit within their landscapes and understanding the key elements that make any building unique. Piper deliberately depicts a fluid sky to contrast, and thereby emphasise, the solidity of the church structure.

The Shell Guide to Herefordshire by David Verey, which John Piper edited, says of Orcop:

“Undulating country with small fields and hairy hedges. The church is rather dull because it has been so drastically restored. There is nothing much else.”

This is a somewhat unkind summary of this scattered settlement which has the remains of a motte and bailey castle as a reminder of the centuries when it was part of a disputed borderland, first between the Romans and the Welsh tribes and then between the Normans and the Welsh. The area also has an historic reputation for witches. The church on rising ground has traces of its Norman builders. The internal fabric may have had the attention of well-meaning Victorian restorers but the outside clearly caught John Piper’s eye, and inspired his experienced hand.’

More images can be provided on request.

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

Title and date: Orcop, Herefordshire, 1973

Size: 38.7 x 56.5 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.