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

500 x 1250 mm
Lithograph 1936

See also Nursery Frieze I

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 most of the people. There are hints at their presence; the lighthouse must have a keeper; the railway engine must be driven by somebody and surely there are people on board? There is a pier, surely people must be there, it is a fine day. A row of beach huts are inviting the British public. Only the fire – which is itself slightly unsettling (is this a firework party?) – has figures. A row of trees, denuded of brances, marches up the hill; the bonfire has a black night-scene background 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 train exhales a plume of troubled smoke ;the signal 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 frequeis still at ‘go’ although the train has passed. Yet the signal is a lower-quadrant signal (it drops for ‘go’ rather than raises), so we are probably – given the date of the print – in GWR territory. Again, Piper uses small spalshes of red; the signal, a chimney, the bonfire, and certain details on the houses yet some of the most powerful images are provided by the parts that have been left out; the white areas – the signal, the pavilion on the pier and the flames of the fire.
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.