Milton Abbas (Dorset) signed 'John Piper' (lower left) watercolour, chalk, ink and gouache 12.6 x 17.6 cm. (5 x 7 in.) Executed circa 1940
PROVENANCE: With New Art Centre, London, 10 January 1977, where purchased by the present owner
The present work is a study for the rare 1940 oil painting that was sold in these rooms on 8 November 2007 for £74,400.
By the beginning of 1940, and in contrast to his purely abstract pictures in the late 1930s, Piper was almost solely devoted to recording important and historical architectural sites throughout England. Now a small and exclusive school, the history of Milton Abbey in Milton Abbas can be traced back to over one thousand years when the original church was founded in c.933 by King Athelstan of Wessex to commemorate the death of his brother. After its secular priests were removed by King Edgar in 964 the building supported a group of Benedictine monks for centuries. During this time they made additions to the architecture including a wooden bell tower. The building reached its present size at the turn of the 15th century after it was destroyed by fire in the early 14th century.
Executed the same year as he became an official war artist, the present work is almost identical in composition to the oil painting which would form part of Piper's first solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries and act as a catalyst for future public acclaim. The concentration of light here is primarily focused on the abbey, which is set off against a dark and imposing sky, infusing the work with an almost theatrical quality.