John Piper: Art in Dark Times

Frances Spalding on John Piper’s pursuit of an English vision during the Second World War.

John Piper is best known, as a war artist, for his paintings of bombed buildings. With searing intensity, he caught the architectural drama created by the Blitz. In November 1940 the War Artists Advisory Committee sent him to Coventry the morning after two thirds of its city centre had been destroyed. His task, amid the stench and smoke, was to record the cathedral that, overnight, had been turned into a smoke-blackened ruin, open to the skies. Here, and in the wake of bomb damage in Bath, Bristol and London, Piper’s achievement as a war artist is outstanding. But a more comprehensive study of his wartime activities shows how, in his art, his journalism and through his close involvement with the Architectural Review, he steadily promoted an English vision. This he discovered in many things, thereby helping to re-establish a sense of national identity in art, architecture and design.

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