Piper wrote that his, 'discovery of Portland was very important ... 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 extraordinary 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 white triangular, pyramidal sea-mark and the black and red striped lighthouse' (quoted in Exhibition catalogue, John Piper: A Retrospective Works from the Artist's Studio, London, Waddington Galleries, 1994).
In 1930 Piper lived for part of the time in Surrey, near the village of Betchworth while he also rented a flat and studio in Hammersmith, London. The proximity of his cottage to the sea enabled him to explore and paint the English coast. David Fraser Jenkins comments, 'The appeal to him [Piper] of the south coast, of its eccentric coastguard huts and lighthouses as well as cliffs and foreshore, apart from being a sheer personal compulsion was a taste he shared with others who exploited these margins of land and sea as a site for modern art. His enthusiasm was encouraged by discussions in French art journals of maritime art, and by the fashion amongst some British artists, especially Christopher Wood, for painting harbours. The immediate status of the coast marked it as something outside the usual, a corruption of urban good manners, free of good taste, and a place where buildings were reduced to streamlined basics' (see Exhibition catalogue, John Piper in the 1930s, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2003, p. 68).
The present work was previously in the collection of the late Alistair Cooke, famed for his radio programme, Letter from America.