John Piper Littlestone-on-Sea 1936

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Artwork details

Artist
John Piper 1903–1992
Title
Littlestone-on-Sea
Date 1936
Medium Paper and ink on paper
Dimensions Support: 359 x 476 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 1964
Reference
T00646
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Littlestone-on-Sea 1936

T00646

Coloured paper collage and indian ink on paper
360 x 475

Purchased from the artist through the Marlborough New London Gallery, London (Grant-in-Aid) 1964

Exhibited:
Marlborough New London Gallery, London, March 1964 (29)
extended loan Museo de Bellos Artes, Caracas, Oct.1978 - March 1979

Reproduced:
Richard Ingrams and John Piper, Piper's Places: John Piper in England and Wales, London 1983, p.119, pl.99 (col.)

Littlestone-on-Sea is south of Dymchurch on the Kent coast. Twelve miles of sea wall protect the low lying Romney Marsh, as the current builds the headland at Dungeness. Piper frequented the south coast throughout the 1930s, making drawings and collages in tandem with his abstract works. His collage of Littlestone-on-Sea relies upon the striped mass of the buildings to provide a focus in the flat landscape of the Marsh and the open sea. The buildings are given their seaside character by the carefully cut arches of the balcony, which - judging by the alternating narrow and splayed symmetrical openings - may have been cut from a folded concertina of paper.

As distinct from Beach with Starfish, c.1933-4 (Tate Gallery T05030), which was made from sketches, he took his accumulation of paper on site for Littlestone-on-Sea. Although the practicalities must have been testing, it afforded greater spontaneity. He told Ingrams: 'I carried about a portfolio full of torn and cut strips of paper of different colours, (and a variety of shades of the same colour) saved or picked up at random and in the heat of the moment, stuck or pinned insecurely, then applied more carefully at leisure in the studio.' (Richard Ingrams and John Piper, Piper's Places: John Piper in England and Wales, London 1983, pp.21-2) For Littlestone-on-Sea a stone coloured sheet of hand made paper was taped to a board and eventually folded at the right to fit the frame; glue subsequently caused discolouration and some foxing has occurred. Grey papers were used for the sea wall and combined with whites (and a piece of purple) for the buildings, and with orange, green and brown in the sky. Their positioning was guided by ink lines then partially covered. A rectangular patch of the ground paper was applied between the buildings (above the arches) to cover ink drawing. This - and the foreground papers which overlap the sea and were then drawn over - shows that there were at least two stages in the process, although the artist insisted in retrospect that the collage was made 'on the spot, cutting and sticking papers and not altering after return to studio' (letter to Tate Gallery, 17 May 1964). The collage remains in a geometric frame selected by the artist.

Another sea wall collage of the same dimensions is inscribed 'Littlestone-on-Sea, 1936' (Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge; repr. K. Moffat ed. Kettle's Yard, Cambridge 1968 [p.9]). While including some of the same papers, its distant red and white lighthouse beside an outcrop indicates that it is not the flat Romney Marsh. It seems, instead, to follow the sketch of the cliffs at Newhaven (S. John Woods, John Piper: Paintings, Drawings and Theatre Designs, London 1955, fig. 123, top left); a drawing of cliffs on the reverse of the Kettle's Yard work supports this. Nevertheless, taken with the closely related Beach Scene, c.1935 (private collection, repr. in col. John Piper, A Retrospective: Works from the Artist's Studio, Waddington Galleries, London, Jan.-Feb.1994, no.8) and the simpler collage of the black and white lighthouse at Dungeness, 1936 (private collection, repr. in col. Ingrams 1983, p.23), they demonstrate Piper's interest in man's coastal interventions in the confrontation of land and sea. He detailed the responsiveness of marine architecture to its peculiar circumstances in 'The Nautical Style' (Architectural Review, Jan.1938, reprinted in John Piper, Buildings and Prospects, London 1948, p.17). This article was followed by his first one man show (London Gallery, May 1938), in which his abstract paintings were shown with seaside collages, including Dungeness. An introduction by Paul Nash - of whose 1920s paintings of Dymchurch Piper must have been aware - asserted that the collages were 'designed and executed, in front of Nature, with an astonishing accuracy of visual aim' ('John Piper', London Bulletin, no.2, May 1938, p.10).

Matthew Gale
August 1996

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