Monday, October 31, 2011

John Piper: Lithographs of Devizes

John Piper's topographical paintings and prints offer an unparalleled record of mid twentieth-century Britain. While at one point in the 1930s Piper was poised to be one of the leaders of English abstraction, his sudden reversal to representational art in 1938 came just in time for him to re-evaluate both the natural and the built landscape at a time when both were under threat. The three lithographs in this post were made for an article by John Piper in The Cornhill in November 1944, entitled Topographical Letter from Devizes, and form a loving record of the market town of Devizes in Wiltshire, "this most ordinary of English towns". The Cornhill magazine was edited by Peter Quennell; this issue also includes contributions by John Betjeman, Osbert Lancaster, Alan Moorhead,  Elizabeth Bowen and others.

John Piper, Devizes: In Long Street (Levinson 57A)
Lithograph, 1944

Piper writes of Devizes with great fondness, celebrating "its good minor architecture, magnificent museum (contents, not building), brewery and tobacco factory (sensible, small-scale manufactures for such a town), branch-line railway, good inns and bars, hotels that are not over Trust-worthy, fair churches and chapels, canal of handsome appearance, sensible plan, bracing air, good-looking inhabitants, cinemas (old-fashioned and super, the super not ostentatious). Disadvantages: lack of second-hand bookshops, absence of sylvan walks, and the wind. It's hard to think of any others."

John Piper, Devizes: The Market Place (Levinson 57B)
Lithograph, 1944

"And so, taking coffee and a bun over the baker and confectioner's, next door but two to W. H. Smith & Son's, while the east wind blows across the Market Place, one looks out of the window on to a rarity: an English town that has not been spoiled and has not been preserved artificially."

John Piper, Avebury Restored (Levinson 57C)
Lithograph, 1944

The lithographs were printed by Butler and Tanner on what Orde Levinson, author of the catalogue raisonné of Piper's prints, calls "standard quality machine-made lithographic cartridge paper". They were printed back to back, so one can display either Devizes: The Market Place or the other two, but not all at once. Piper must have been particularly pleased with the four panel, two page Devizes: The Market Place, because he reworked it at a larger size and with much brighter colour for the double-page frontispiece and title page for his book Buildings and Prospects in 1948.

I apologize to my readers for such a long gap between posts; circumstances mean that I have little time to devote to this blog at the moment, so although I have many new posts planned, their appearance will be sporadic.