PROVENANCE: With The Redfern Gallery, where acquired by the father of the present owner, 20th July 1953
EXHIBITED: London, The Redfern Gallery, November 1952, cat.no.25
The recording and understanding of architecture was at the heart of John Piper's art throughout his career. Frequently travelling to obscure locations throughout Britain, the artist intended on finding buildings of extraordinary character and representing them with his own unique technique. Font and Flowers, North Grimston depicts the interior of such a church, itself immediately interesting as Piper would more often than not illustrate the exterior structure and elements.
North Grimston is located in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire with the church dedicated to St Nicholas. Piper may have visited the area as early as the late 1930s when he was involved with a project led by the British Museum's Department of British Antiquities to record in photographs all the Saxon and Celtic sculpture on fonts, crosses and elsewhere in the British Isles. Alongside Tom Kendrick of the museum, he would travel the country in his old Lancia with a Tilley lamp, wet sponge and camera to assist progress. These expeditions also laid the foundations for two articles by Piper, the first of which was published in the Architectural Review of October 1936 and titled 'England's Early Sculptors'.
The font at St Nicholas' Church, which Piper chooses to illustrate prominently in the foreground of the present work, is dateable to Saxon times. The rich and vigorous carvings illustrate the last supper and are testament to Piper's ideal of incorporating early primitive British art into his modern technique; something he had already achieved in stained glass. The inclusion of a jug with flowers adds a welcome sense of life and colour to the ancient surroundings, reminiscent of Piper's earlier interest in still-life and the strong influence felt by Matisse, Picasso and Braque.