John Piper C.H. (British 1903-1992)
Nursery Frieze I

500 x 1250 mm

Lithograph 1936

See also Nursery Frieze II

One of Piper’s many seascapes, here he experiments with abstraction. The buildings are simplified, the colours are fragmented and flattened. Piper said abstraction should at least ‘be able to feed upon a bare beach with tins and broken bottles,’ and here he depicts a scene neither wholly abstract, nor wholly real, a mid-way point, artefacts washed up by the sea, but what artefacts?

Interestingly, this should be a busy seaside scene, but Piper has removed the people. There are hints at their presence; the lighthouse must have a keeper; the anchored boat ‘RX2’ must have been anchored by somebody. There are flags flying; a lightship is anchored offshore and a three-funnel steamer – stylised, of course – makes its way up the estuary. Only the yacht – which is in fact disappearing to the right of the picture – has a figure. The steamer’s smoke is being blown, unsettlingly, forward and there are dashes of abstract black throughout the lithograph at once emphasising the distinct activities yet unifying them. This is a happy seaside scene, yet we are supposed to be slightly unsettled. The church sits upon rocks, we can see both the west end and the north side – an aspect Piper has borrowed from cubism whereby he manages to show two fronts of the church at once. And of course there are frequent, but sparingly applied, splashes of red: a doorway, another doorway, a buoy, an anchored boat, and two flats. Yet some of the most powerful images are provided by the parts that have been left out; the white areas – the door to the church, the sails of the little yacht (it is graced with a figure, yet denied the yacht), the mid-part of the lighthouse (Piper asks us how it can in fact operate) and two large white buildings, held together in the eye of the viewer only by clever placing of black lines.

Piper was but 24 at the time he made this, yet already he combines the architectural, the abstract, the real and exciting colours.

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Condition: Generally very good, backed to linen with small – and entirely invisible – areas of restoration.