Tuesday, 22 June 2021

New gallery celebrates the life of 'a very British artist'

A NEW gallery dedicated to the work of one of England’s most influential yet overlooked artists has opened at Henley’s River and Rowing Museum.

“John Piper — A very British artist” is the title of the permanent exhibition which welcomed the public for the first time on Wednesday. A launch party and private view was held on Tuesday night — the 113th anniversary of the artist’s birth.

Piper, a painter and printmaker who died in 1992 aged 88, spent most of his working life at his farmhouse in Fawley Bottom, where he built a pottery and a studio large enough to create full-sized designs for his spectacular stained-glass windows.

Equally renowned for his romantic landscapes, war art, views of ruined churches, ceramics and tapestries, Piper is today considered to be one of the most significant British artists of the 20th century.

A spokesman for the River and Rowing Museum said: “This new permanent gallery examines the diversity of Piper’s career — from modernism to Neo-Romanticism. It will provide the first permanent home for his work in the UK, and will feature previously unseen work from private collections around the country, as well as loans from the V&A, Tate and the Arts Council.

“The museum has also received pieces personally donated from John Piper’s family, who are keen to mark his prolific and extraordinary talent with a dedicated permanent gallery in his own home town.”

Highlights of the exhibition include Brittany Beach with Lighthouse, 1961, an abstract collage on loan from a private collector and on display to the public for the first time; Sketch, 1933, on loan from a private collector and an early example of Piper’s experimentation with abstraction; and the set model for Benjamin Britten’s 1947 production of The Rape of Lucretia, on loan from the V&A.

The new gallery has the full blessing of the artist’s family, including his children Sebastian Piper and Clarissa Lewis (née Piper). They said: “Our father would be delighted to have a gallery dedicated to his work in Henley, his local town for nearly 60 years. All the family is fully behind the project and can think of no better or more fitting tribute.”

Museum director Ludo Keston said: “The opening of the new John Piper Gallery is an apt tribute to the life and work of an extraordinary British artist — and what better way to mark what would have been his 113th birthday than finally bringing John Piper home to Henley?

“The opening of the gallery marks the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for the museum as we explore the work of other great 20th century artists through our temporary exhibition programme.

“Conversations are already under way with major collectors, galleries and museums, and we hope to present exhibitions devoted to great contemporaries of John Piper including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicolson and Lucien Freud.

“This is a truly exciting moment for the museum and for the communities of Henley who have supported the development of our new gallery.”

Art historian David Fraser Jenkins, one of the leading authorities on Piper’s work is also supportive of the gallery. He said: “Henley is a beautiful small town in the country, and this English countryside forever outside [Piper’s] windows and through his open door into trees and lanes was a very particular background to his art.

“To see a public gallery showing his paintings in Henley would be like a visit to his own studio, and would share the light and colours that were around him as he painted.

“There are throughout Europe many artists’ museums in the places where they lived, and a collection of Piper’s at Henley would become like them — a place to make the time to go to, to enjoy and understand his art in the best way possible.”

The River and Rowing Museum in Mill Meadows, Henley, is open from 10am to 5pm daily. An annual pass is £11 for adults (£10 concessions) and £9 for children aged four and over. For more information, visit www.rrm.co.uk

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