In 1964 Piper produced A Retrospect of Churches, a portfolio of 25 stone lithographs. In the foreward John Betjeman wrote, 'John Piper is the first English artist since Cotman to concentrate on churches and in particular those of England and Wales. His knowledge of them started as a boy when he was Honorary Local Secretary of the Surrey Archaeological Society. As a young man he made copies of medieval stained glass. He is a keen topographer and photographer and guide book writer and for these reasons has been into thousands of churches sketching and taking photographs ... John Piper does not confine himself to one particular district or style of architecture. He enjoys the bold carving of the Norman fonts and doors, the splendour of the great wool churches of flinty East Anglia and the towers and spires of the limestone belt stretching from Lincolnshire to Somerset'.
Binham Priory near Fakenham in Norfolk is just the sort of church that would have appealed to Piper. The earliest parts of the building date from the 11th Century, using the local gingery-brown sandstone conglomerate worked in with Barnack limestone. Later periods used creamy Caen stone from Normandy and then again shelly Barnack from Northamptonshire. During the suppression of the monasteries large parts of the building were demolished, the most impressive façade though luckily remains; the West front, considered to be one of the earliest examples of bar tracery in England.
Piper presents an oblique view of Binham showing the famous West front and some of the ruined shell of the church. On a monumental, rough-weave canvas the paint is applied freely and with broad brush-strokes, in places building up layers of impasto. A brooding, menacing mood is created through a palette of dark blues and greys to the left of the composition, moving through yellow tones in the centre to chalky whites on the right, enhanced by a jagged compositional frame of pitch black and the extreme contrast of the splashes of flame red coming through the stained glass.
It would appear that Binham Priory has never been exhibited or appeared in any literature, and has been in a private collection for many years. Stylistically the present work would appear to have been painted in the early 1950s, a watercolour of Binham is recorded from 1948 (see S. John Woods, John Piper Paintings, Drawings and Theatre Designs 1932-1954, London, 1954, pl. 62). Piper also produced a screenprint of Binham much later in 1981.