Showing his Workings Out

3rd December 2019

When artist John Piper was commissioned to design a tapestry for the High Altar of Chichester Cathedral he described it as being “in some ways the most frightening commission” he had ever been given. Now initial sketches of ideas he had for the seven panels are being sold at auction in Salisbury.

The four watercolour, gouache and gum arabic designs (on one sheet) reflect Piper’s brief for strong colours, and his desire to include the four elements of Earth, Wind, Air and Fire; they feature in the Modern British and 20th Century Art sale at Woolley and Wallis on 11th December. Tapestry was an entirely new medium to Piper when the Dean of Chichester, Walter Hussey, first approached him in 1964, and he later apologised to his patron for the roughness of what he described as “early and immature sketches”. His confidence grew as he studied Renaissance tapestries and played with different abstractions of the Trinity. His final design was woven in France by Pinton Frères at Felletin near Aubusson and was installed in the cathedral in 1966. Hussey was delighted with the finished product but one canon is alleged to have worn dark glasses at its consecration in protest at its bright colours.

“Not all of Piper’s initial sketches and ideas have survived,” said Victor Fauvelle, head of Paintings at Woolley and Wallis. “A few are in museums and some were exhibited at Pallant House in 2016. The textiles designed by John Piper are highly desirable today and these sketches are a fascinating insight into how he tackled this high pressure commission and got his ideas down onto paper.”

The sketches carry a pre-sale estimate of £2,500-3,500. For more details click here.

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