Monday, 19 September 2011

John Piper, Newhaven and the Towner Appeal

The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne has appealed for help in buying two interesting pieces by John Piper, both showing the harbour at Newhaven. Both pictures are currently on show at the gallery, as part of its summer blockbuster, 'John Piper in Kent and Sussex', and they're among the best on display.

Piper is an intriguing figure, not least because his work is so varied and, it has to be said, uneven. Looking through 'Piper's Places',  the book he put together with Richard Ingrams towards the end of his (Piper's) life, I was struck by this. You'd go from a beautifully detailed, atmospheric drawing of a country church to a scribbled sketch of some piece of coastline that had evidently caught his fancy at a particular moment, in a particular light perhaps, or with clouds looming.

Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour (litho), 1937
Of course he went everywhere (in England and Wales, at least), setting the trend for his generation by leaping in his car, at a time when owning one was still a luxury, and buzzing about the countryside, photographing and sketching everything that caught his interest - churches and ancient monuments, elegant streets, hills, ruins, harbours...

Edward Bawden, Newhaven, 1935
I think his work reflects this restless, sometimes hectic, motion. At its best it can capture the spirit of a place perfectly, and bring something new to the artistic process too, and this is especially true of the collages he made in the 1930s. His collage of the Castle pub and the harbour is in striking contrast to the paintings Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden made at the port around the same time.

The Towner has secured £75,000 from The Art Fund and other sources towards the purchase price of Piper's 'The Castle' and 'Newhaven' - a wonderfully energetic pen and ink drawing, but still needs another £10,000 to complete the sale. Perhaps some generous sponsor has already stepped forward, or perhaps the money will come from thousands of people, each giving a little. They're well worth the investment, I'd say. Thank heavens Piper had the sense not to become a solicitor...

Later: the extra money was found and Towner now owns both pictures - once again the Art Fund has helped a museum buy work which is both popular and important. 


  1. Thank you so much for these wonderful images, James. To say nothing of your text. I had never seen The Castle before. It's a stunner.

  2. I am only just discovering Piper through reading 'Romantic Moderns', and I'm generally fascinated by the rediscovery of England in the 1930s.

  3. Anonymous13 June, 2012

    Hello James thanks for this post, it's amazing to think they have attained such value and why not. I can hear lessons being taught whilst looking at Newhaven, the sound of old tutors marvelling at this use of line, the variety of mark and the careful control of colour and tone.