John Piper

The Dairy, Fawley Court


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
John Piper 1903–1992
Watercolour and ink on paper
Support: 527 × 400 mm
Purchased 1940

Display caption

Piper lived near this Romanesque building in Oxfordshire. In 1940 he was beginning to make works of art out of his interest in British architecture. This is one of many drawings in which he imitated the monochrome but very clear studies by John Sell Cotman, who had drawn churches in Norfolk early in the nineteenth century.

It is disappointing that it was such a modest painting as this that was the first of Piper’s works to be acquired by the Tate Gallery.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

The Dairy, Fawley Court 1940
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper
527 x 400 (20 3/4 x 15 3/4)
Inscribed in faded writing ink 'John Piper | 1940' b.r.
Label on backboard inscribed in another hand in red ink 'John Piper | No 4268 | Palace Pier Brighton' and in black ink 'SO'
Purchased from the artist through the Leicester Galleries, London (Clarke Fund and Grant-in-Aid) 1940
Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture by Artists of Fame and Promise, Leicester Galleries, London, Summer 1940 (6)
Tate Gallery Wartime Acquisitions, National Gallery, London, April-May 1942 (92)
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 (65)
Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery, British Council tour, 1946-7, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Jan.-Feb. 1946 (65), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, March (65), Raadhushallen, Copenhagen, April-May (65), Musée de Jeu de Paume, Paris, June-July (65), Musée des Beaux Arts, Berne, Aug. (66), Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, Vienna, Sept. (67), Narodni Galerie, Prague, Oct.-Nov. (67), Muzeum Narodne, Warsaw, Nov.-Dec. (67), Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Jan.-Feb. 1947 (67)
Continental Exhibition: Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery Exhibited Under the Auspices of the British Council, Tate Gallery, London May-Sept.1947; publication supplemented as Fifty Years Tate Gallery 1897-1947: Pictures from the Tate Gallery Foundation Gift and Exhibition of Subsequent British Painting, (no number)
Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery, Arts Council tour 1947-8, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct.1947, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, Oct.-Nov., Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Nov.-Dec., Birkenhead, Williamson Art Gallery, Jan.1948, Bristol City Art Gallery, Jan.-Feb. 1948, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth, Feb-March, Brighton Art Gallery and Museum, March-April, Plymouth City Art Gallery, April-May, Castle Museum, Nottingham, May-June, Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery, June-July, Aberdeen Art Gallery, July-Aug., Salford Art Gallery and Museum, Aug.-Sept. (45)
John Piper: Georgian Arcadia, an Exhibition to Mark the Golden Jubilee of the Georgian Group, Marlborough Fine Art, London, Sept.-Oct. 1987 (7, repr.)
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.522
Howard Colvin, 'Introduction', John Piper: Georgian Arcadia, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art, London 1987, p.7
S. John Woods, John Piper: Paintings, Drawings and Theatre Designs, London 1955, pl.90
The Dairy, Fawley Court was painted on medium weight white laid paper, which the artist had soaked and gummed to board with brown tape, strips of which (c.5 mm wide) underlie the image on all sides (Tate Gallery conservation files). Planned in pencil, the watercolour was applied and rubbed down to create the illusion of the fall of light. The colour range is subdued, with the focus upon the architectural details added in ink. The artist had made etchings of Brighton a year earlier and seems to have transferred the backing board from a view of the town.
Piper made several watercolours at Fawley Court near his home outside Henley-on-Thames, including View of the Folly, Fawley Court (collection Miss M.F.E. MacKenzie, no known repr.), and The River Approach, Fawley Court, 1940 (V&A, repr. Recording Britain, I, London 1946, p.169). In terms conveying his topographical and architectural interests, he described the dairy as 'a 19th cent. picturesque outbuilding ... in which Romanesque remains of a Henley chapel ... were incorporated' (letter to Tate Gallery, 15 July 1958). Nikolaus Pevsner specified that the doorway came 'from a house in Hart Street, Henley' (The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, Harmondsworth 1960, p.135), while Howard Colvin identified this picturesque conjunction as part of a campaign of building for John Freedman in the mid-eighteenth century (Howard Colvin, 'Introduction', John Piper: Georgian Arcadia, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art, London 1987, p.7). The 'beakhead decoration' noted by Pevsner is clearly shown by Piper, and reappears in a drawing of the chancel arch at St Peter's Stanton Low inscribed 'April 21 1940' (V&A, repr. Anthony West, John Piper, London 1979, p.113, fig.64).
With John Betjeman, Piper shared an enthusiasm for antiquarian and topographical investigation typified by his Shell Guide to Oxfordshire (London 1938), which was commissioned by the poet. In 1940, Piper contributed both The River Approach, Fawley Court and St Peter's Stanton Low to the Recording Britain project (repr. Recording Britain, I, London 1946, pp.169,181) supported by the Pilgrim Trust, which sought to record 'buildings of national interest' ('Introduction', ibid., p.v) under threat from the war and from urban development. The Dairy, Fawley Court could be placed under the fourth of Sir Kenneth Clark's proposed categories: 'Country Houses and their Parks' (David Mellor, 'A History and Outline', Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain, London 1990, p.10). It also shared the factual watercolour style of the project which was distinct from the schematic planes of Piper's contemporary topographical oil paintings. The watercolour was the first of his works to enter the Tate collection and, although bought before the first Recording Britain exhibition (National Gallery, Aug.-Sept. 1941), it exemplifies a move towards the Neo-Romantic cataloguing of architecture epitomised by Seaton Delaval, 1941 (Tate Gallery N05748).
Matthew Gale
August 1996


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