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A major exhibition of 150 works by John Piper on show across three venues on the Kent and Sussex border reveal the artist's love and fascination for the local landscape
A major exhibition of 150 works by John Piper on show across three venues on the Kent and Sussex border reveal the artists love and fascination for the local landscape
The landscape of Kent has inspired many artists from J W Turner to Paul Nash. One of the most prolific and successful was the artist John Piper whose relationship with the county is celebrated in an exhibition across three venues in West Kent.
Mascalls Gallery in Paddock Wood have been working with Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery and The National Trust property Scotney Castle in Lamberhurst to present John Piper in Kent and Sussex, a major exhibition featuring more than 100 works.
John Pipers reputation was built during the Second World War with works like his painting of Coventry Cathedral shimmering with the heat of the previous nights bombings, and his watercolours of churches and Windsor Castle created as a record in the event that the buildings didnt survive the war.
George VI when looking through the drawings of Windsor for the first time commented you seem to have very bad luck with your weather, Mr Piper. Although Piper is best known for his thunderous skies and churches in a state of pleasing decay, this exhibition contains many surprises and opens up new areas of Pipers work.
At Mascalls Gallery the exhibition presents a survey of 50 years of Piper visiting the area and painting the varied landscape. Fresh out of college in the 1930s Piper stayed regularly on the south coast making collages out doors.
He would sit on the seafront at Littlestone-on-Sea, Hythe, Dungeness with a box of scrap papers exploring the landscape and playing with the idea of abstraction. Two of Pipers sketchbooks from this period have been found for this exhibition allowing us a real insight into the artists formative years spent visiting the Kent coast.
As Pipers reputation grew he became in great demand for his paintings of stately homes and he became friends with the owners of Knole, Sissinghurst and Firle who asked Piper to paint their homes.
These continue the exhibition at Mascalls Gallery, but just 10 minutes drive from Paddock Wood is Scotney Castle in Lamberhurst which Piper painted more than any other place in the region. In 1945 Scotneys owner Christopher Hussey had written a review for Country Life of an exhibition of Pipers paintings of Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire.
This article led to correspondence between the two men and Hussey invited Piper to visit Scotney. The many shared interests led the Husseys and Pipers to become good friends. New information about their relationships both professional and personal has come to light as the rooms of Scotney are opened for the first time.
The exhibition John Piper in Kent and Sussex at Scotney Castle includes many personal letters between the families, a collection of John Pipers photographs taken for Scotneys first guidebook, and correspondence including after Christophers death a letter from Betty giving his watch to his godson, Sebastian Piper.
The Husseys bought, and were given, a remarkable collection of Piper paintings which are now in the care of the National Trust. In addition, Piper painted the two Scotney castles many times and these works, which are now in private collections, have been brought back to Scotney for this exhibition.
Also in Lamberhurst is an example of one of the commissions that Piper was asked to create in the area. In 1985 a local resident asked Piper to design a stained glass window of The Annunciation to the Shepherds for St Marys church. The evolution of the design is shown across a series of drawings resulting finally in a full-sized cartoon which is on display for the first time and takes up the full height of Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery!
There was controversy in the village at the unveiling of the window as the design of the angels head had changed some claim that the final version looks like the head is in a goldfish bowl or an astronauts helmet. The final design shows that even at this late stage, Piper was struggling with the best way of drawing the angel so as to make the shepherds sore afraid.
This is just one of many commissions on display at Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery include the drawings and studies for tapestries at the University of Sussex and Chichester Cathedral as well as stage designs, costume designs and a set model for operas at Glyndebourne.
Hopefully many visitors to the exhibition will be inspired to head out in search of the final designs in the churches and cathedrals of the region. From the well-known images of Pipers Romney Marsh churches, to the rarely seen stage models for Glyndebourne operas this exhibition at three venues sheds much new light onto one of Englands much loved artists, and an artist who much loved the counties of Kent and Sussex.
Nathaniel Hepburn has been curator of Mascalls Gallery in Paddock Wood since it opened in 2006. Owned and run by Mascalls School, the gallery is committed to bringing nationally important exhibitions to the region. Over the last five years these have included retrospectives of Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland, showcases of emerging regional artists and cutting-edge contemporary art from around the world. Last years exhibition Cross Purposes; shock and contemplation in Images of the Crucifixion brought Marc Chagalls designs for the Tudeley windows to the country for the first time, made national headlines and brought more than 6,000 people to the site of a comprehensive secondary school in Paddock Wood.
John Piper in Kent and Sussex runs concurrently at Mascalls Gallery in Paddock Wood, Scotney Castle in Lamberhurst and Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery from 9 March-21 May.
Admission to Mascalls Gallery and Tunbridge Wells Museum is free. Admission to Scotney is discounted with a flyer stamped at the other two venues.
The exhibition then tours to a single venue in Sussex: John Piper in Kent and Sussex runs from 2 July 25 September at Towner, Eastbourne.
Mascalls Gallery, Maidstone Road, Paddock Wood TN12 6LT
Open Mon-Thu 10am-5pm, Fri-Sat 11am-4pm. Closed Bank Holidays.
Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery, Civic Centre, Mount Pleasant, Tunbridge Wells TN1 1JN
Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm. Closed Bank Holidays and Easter Saturday.
Scotney Castle, Lamberhurst TN3 8JN
Open Wed-Sun 11am-4pm. Timed tickets for the house may sell out on busy days.