John Piper

Figure Drawing


Not on display

John Piper 1903–1992
Ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 380 × 275 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1942

Catalogue entry

This catalogue entry discusses three related works.

John Piper 1903-1992

T05810 Figure Drawing 1941

Pen and ink and watercolour washes of black and yellow on Whatman paper
380 x 275 (15 x 10 3/4)
Inscribed in black ink 'John Piper | '41' b.r.

T05811 Figure Drawing 1941

T05812 Figure Drawing 1941

Three works on paper mounted together

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1942

Tate Gallery Wartime Acquisitions, National Gallery, London, April-May 1942 (93, as Three Studies for Female Figures)
A Selection from the Tate Gallery's Wartime Acquisitions, Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts tour, Royal Exchange, London, July-Aug. 1942, Cheltenham Art Gallery, Sept., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Oct., Galleries of Birmingham Society of Arts, Nov.-Dec., Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Jan.-Feb. 1943, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, Feb-March, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, March-April, Manchester City Art Gallery, April-May, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, May-June, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, June, Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery, Kelvingrove, July, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Aug. 1943 (66, as Three Studies for Female Figures)

Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.522

S. John Woods, John Piper: Paintings, Drawings and Theatre Designs, London 1955, pl.205

The artist framed these drawings together and, until 1990, they were registered together by the gallery (as NO5350). They are on heavy Whatman paper torn from a sketchbook along perforations at the left and with deckle edges at the top and right. Details were applied in ink over general colour washes; the results are spontaneous and sketchy, and the yellow watercolour has some pencil doodling on the reverse. The single figure was more extensively worked, as highlighting was introduced in white gouache and by scratching (this has holed the paper). All have been discoloured by light and by attached tape (Tate Gallery conservation files).

These studies constituted the second work by Piper to enter the Tate collection (after The Dairy, Fawley Court, Tate Gallery N05215), at the time of the establishment of his reputation as a topographical artist. Although they were purchased soon after being made, the painter would describe them as '3 of many life drawings of the period' (letter to Tate Gallery, 15 July 1958). Anthony West attributed Piper's resumption of this practice in the 1930s to Ivon Hitchens's encouragement, and he divided the resulting life drawings into the calligraphic and those 'related to Rouault's enriched lithographic work' (Anthony West, John Piper, London 1979, p.71). The latter style is exemplified by Nude (Tate Gallery T05835), while the 1941 trio display calligraphic variety (taut and loose line, hatching and stippling). Like Hitchens, Piper adopted the practice of using friends as models; Myfanwy Piper recalled that she met her future husband during the summer of 1934 when she had gone to pose for Hitchens at Sizewell (John Piper, A Retrospective: Works from the Artist's Studio, Waddington Galleries, London, Jan.-Feb.1994, [p.3]). She appears in all three of the 1941 drawings: behind in the yellow watercolour, in front in the brown. The second model in the latter - dressing the other's hair - is the painter Katharine Church, a long-standing friend, who had also posed for Hitchens in 1934. Church remembered Piper making this brown watercolour before the birth of her daughter in October 1941, 'one evening at Chapel Farm, Ecchinswell in front of the fire (during the war)' (note to David Fraser Jenkins, 14 Sept.1990). While she did not identify with the fifth figure (whose hair was parted on the wrong side), the similarity of composition, style and materials point to the same or a closely related sitting. It is notable that the darkened background and the side lighting evoke firelight, encouraging an air of intimate voluptuousness in the midst of war.

Matthew Gale
August 1996


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