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John Piper

2 of 2 portraits by Peggy Angus

© estate of Peggy Angus / National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Piper

by Peggy Angus
pencil, crayon and wash, 1937
20 1/2 in. x 24 5/8 in. (521 mm x 625 mm)
Given by Henry Keswick, 1988
Primary Collection
NPG 6545

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 79
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 115 Read entry

    This careful and elegant drawing of the young John Piper is a reminder that in the 1930s he was at the heart of the modern movement in Britain and one of our leading abstract painters. He is sitting on an Alvar Aalto chair (1928) and behind him on the wall hangs his Forms on Dark Blue (1836), one of his largest and most important works of that period. The artist, Peggy Angus, was married at the time to Piper’s friend and collaborator, the architectural historian J. M. Richards. As editor of the Architectural Review, Richards commissioned articles and reviews from Piper, and in 1946 Piper illustrated Richards’s study of suburban architecture, The Castles on the Ground. Piper was already working on the Shell Guide to Oxfordshire (1938) and with the publication of Brighton Aquatints, in 1939, his transformation into the most significant British landscape and topographical artist of the century was complete. The one consistent fact about the huge variety of Piper’s evocative landscape paintings is that they include neither people nor animals. It is unclear where this portrait is set, so the ownership of the ginger cat on his lap seems likely to remain unknown. The background may be his own house with the still unsold painting; it may be the Richards’s, it may be Serge Chermayeff’s (Piper did a television programme with him on Art and Modern Architecture that January), or it may be purely imaginary, a suitable setting for a leading modernist. Whoever the cat belonged to and whether it invited itself into the picture or not, its role is clearly to add another element of the characterisation of Piper the man: modernists are not all bug-eyed monsters – sometimes they even like cats (and wear carpet slippers)!

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 495

Events of 1937back to top

Current affairs

George VI becomes king. The younger brother of Edward VIII was crowned on the 12th May and the coronation was broadcast to Britain and the Empire on the radio. Edward becomes the Duke of Windsor, although the rank of 'Royal Highness' is not extended to Wallis Simpson.
Neville Chamberlain becomes Prime Minister following Baldwin's retirement.

Art and science

Roland Penrose organises a tour of Picasso's painting Guernica to the UK. The painting, which shows the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, went on display at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in East London


Commercial airship travel is brought to an end with the 'Hindenberg Disaster'. The German airship exploded while landing in New Jersey. The radio broadcaster Herbert Morrison's reaction has become legendary: 'Oh, the humanity!'
Japan invades China, killing about 25,000. Japanese Troops committed numerous atrocities against soldiers and civilians in what became known as the 'Rape of Nanking'.

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