Audio: John Piper, Portland Stone Perspective
John Piper, C.H. (1903-1992)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more POST-WAR BRITISH MODERNISM FROM THE PARNASSUS COLLECTION INTRODUCTION With an unerring eye for quality, this important European Collection has been brought together over the last three decades. The variety and breadth of the artworks, which include 17th-century Dutch Old Masters, Victorian and British Impressionist Art, European Impressionist and Modern Art, Post-War British Modernism and European Post-War and Contemporary Art, reflect the eclectic taste and passions of this private aesthete. The present selection of paintings and sculpture from the collection being offered for sale represent the synthesis between tradition and modernity that is at the heart of the entire collection. This in turn is central to the selection of the group of Post-War British Modernist paintings that make up a large proportion of the works. Initially these are seemingly disparate, but looking more carefully it is clear that key themes run through the collection. Bold images and strength of colour are apparent throughout, whether looking at the intensity of the deliberately restrained palette of the monochromatic van Goyen, Heron (Black painting with White Squares) and Soulages, or the more exuberant colours presented formally in the work of Albers and Bridget Riley. The diversity and careful selection of the works here reflect the tastes of this cultivated and notable collector; in addition, the Northern European emphasis reflects their own background, adding a local flavour. This dimension is taken to a more intimate extreme by the inclusion of works of Sir Stanley Spencer, which were illustrated in the collector's school chapel. Sometimes, pictures have been added to this collection for emotional reasons, the result of an immediate reaction on the part of the owner, that electric jolt of intuition and desire. To summarise the owner's words, 'it has been very important to me that the artworks I bring into my collection give me pleasure - I become bored with an artwork quickly if it is merely decorative - with the aim of challenging and stimulating me when I see the paintings every day. Like a library, though, I see this as a work in progress, and as my tastes evolve, Ilike to take stock, reanimate the collection and steer in new directions.' POST-WAR BRITISH MODERNISM FROM THE PARNASSUS COLLECTION In the wake of the Second World War, a number of tendencies and strategies emerged in Western art, reacting to the new modern landscape in which the artists found themselves. In the United States, the influx of Surrealists in exile from Europe during the war years had led to a break with figuration that resulted in Abstract Expressionism. On the continent, similar movements came to the fore, not least under the banner of Art Informel. In Britain, by contrast, a range of movements emerged, many of them refusing to abandon the lyricism of figuration. These span from the emphatic, narrative figurative scenes of Spencer to the rigid abstraction of Riley, with an infinite range of alternative means of expression in between. Of course, British art, like so much of Britain itself - even London - appears to be like a string of villages. None more so than Hampstead in the 1930s which, for a moment in time, became the European centre of the avant-garde. British artists such Dame Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Ivon Hitchens found lodgings there and invited their European contemporaries to flee the political uncertainty of mainland Europe and join them in their suburban ideal. This included Piet Mondrian, Naum Gabo and László Moholy-Nagy. Many of these artists subsequently moved to New York but not before forginglong-term friendships with many of the most influential British artists of the day. When Hepworth and Ben Nicholson relocated to St Ives in 1939 they did so with a number of European artists, helping to establish the small seaside fishing village as a mecca for contemporary British Art. Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Paul Feiler and Terry Frost were all either indigenous to or moved to Cornwall at some stage in the next 20 years. Although located on a westerly outcrop, the artists' isolation was merely geographic. They all held important exhibitions in the leading London galleries of the day as well as in New York. The Parnassus Collection includes important pieces from all these major artists associated with this most avant-garde of 'villages'. It may have been Cookham for Sir Stanley Spencer, Greenleaves for Ivon Hitchens, as Foliage by Water No. 8 demonstrates, or indeed St Ives, but these Post-War British artists all responded to a certain sense of place from which they were able to project their wider discourses. The familiar also inspired the work of Frank Auerbach, but with very different results. By contrast, there is a meatier, more existential perspective to Auerbach's portrait of Renée Fedden. This striking image, showing the wife of author Robin Fedden, again taps into the cultural milieu of Britain in the second half of the 20th-century. But the image itself is electric, with its zig-zag-like features conveying a vivid, physical sense of emotional presence that is beyond mere beauty, revealing the pulsing blood of sensation that underpinned many of the works by the artists associated with the loose 'School of London' of the post-war era. Patrick Caulfield's Boats at Brindisi is the complete antithesis of this: he managed to dismantle the entire notion of painting, creating figurative works that deliberately ape the appearance of manufactured objects and therefore undermine the notion of the artist's touch that is so vital to so much Modernism and to Auerbach's work in particular; meanwhile, Bridget Riley's parallel lines of colour appear even more deliberately reductive. Early Light was inspired by the colours of the ancient Egyptian tombs in the Valley of the Kings, yet shares a regularity and even uniformity that speaks of the concept of art being pushed to an even greater plastic extreme. This is a dialogue that was simultaneously taking place with many artists from the continent and included within the collection, for instance Pierre Soulages' 10 Août 1961 with its raw mono-chromatic gesturality and materiality, or Arnaldo Pomodoro, whose gleaming sculptures are perforated by markings which appear like some secret language and which, despite the sheen of geometry and rationality seemingly apparent, are redolent of the artist's own movements and actions. The Post-War British Modernist paintings within the Parnassus Collection can be viewed in isolation; however, through carefuljuxtaposition with both early continental artists such as Raoul Dufy and Édouard Vuillard and contemporaries like Albers and Soulages, we quickly come to realise that rather than being an isolated, idiosyncratic form of Modernism, these artists are intrinsically woven into this most intricate of international 20th-century tapestries. POST-WAR BRITISH MODERNISM FROM THE PARNASSUS COLLECTION
John Piper, C.H. (1903-1992)

Portland Stone Perspective

John Piper, C.H. (1903-1992)
Portland Stone Perspective
signed 'John Piper' (lower left)
oil on board
36 x 48 in. (90.5 x 122 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
Exhibition catalogue, John Piper, New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, 1955, no. 9, illustrated.
New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, John Piper, February - March 1955, no. 9.
Witchita, Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Witchita State University, catalogue not traced.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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André Zlattinger
André Zlattinger

Lot Essay

My discovery of Portland was very important to me. I think it was in the late 1920s that I first went there in a very old Morris Cowley with Miles Marshall. I am a map-lover and Portland looks too extra-ordinary for words on the map, so does the adjoining Chesil beach. At that time Portland Bill was much more untidy, with great blocks of stone lying about on the low quarry shore in magnificent disarray. The derricks for loading the blocks onto the boats stood among a very small scatter of beach huts, dominated by the great triangular, pyramidal sea-mark and the black and red striped lighthouse.

The foreshore is now more ship-shape, holiday makers come in crowds and there are ranks of beach huts. Inland too there is a lot of development but the character remains: ... large-scale, airy, maritime, naval, above all workaday, and not picturesque, except by accident' (Piper quoted in a hand-written note in a sketchbook in the possession of the artist's family; sited in exhibition catalogue, John Piper A Retrospective Works from the Artist's Studio, London, Marlborough Gallery, 1994, pages not numbered).

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