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John Piper and the Church: Dorchester Abbey
This is Piper at his best. More than 50 works spanning his career — quality loans besides — and the Abbey the perfect setting for John Piper and the Church, a show celebrating Piper’s great contribution to the development of modern art in British churches through the 20th century.
Dorchester Abbey was a favourite of John Piper’s (1903-1992). A founding member of The Friends of Dorchester Abbey, he donated the watercolour (right) for sale as prints for fundraising. His lifelong fascination with church buildings began young: in his teens he produced sketches and a guidebook to the churches in his home county, Surrey; his love affair with stained glass began aged ten. On a visit to France, in Notre Dame (or Chartres) he experienced the “thrilling shock” of “light coming through a maze of richly coloured glass, in general darkness”.
This exhibition, curated by Pat Jordan Evans of the Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames, who worked with Piper from 1975, skilfully illustrates the versatile artist’s love of British churches and the art within them, assembling paintings, stained glass and tapestry designs, drawings, and ecclesiastical vestments.
From Coventry Cathedral, November 15, 1940 painted when Piper was an official War Artist, to Octagonal Church, Hartwell, Buckinghamshire, strikingly combining Romanticism and abstraction, to stained glass designs (including his first ever trial stained glass panel, translated by Patrick Reyntiens for Oundle School Chapel), and a trial strip of tapestry (for Chichester Cathedral), to the last exhibit, a self-portrait (naturally, featuring a church), this is a first-rate selection. Oxfordshire churches include Dunsden Church, a pencil sketch of Ewelme Pulpit, and an original Design for a window at St Bartholomew’s Church, Nettlebed (1970). From Buckinghamshire, his sensitive gouache painting of The Tower of Fawley Church (below) shows his and his wife Myfanwy’s local church.
The exhibition is on until June 10. http://www.johnpiperandthechurch.co.uk. A well illustrated catalogue including a foreword by Frances Spalding, Piper’s biographer, accompanies the show, as well as a programme of music, talks and services.