Oh what a beauty… I’ve never seen one as big as that before!

John-PiperIn this instance, I am referring to the gaping mouth-hole on this picture which is an inset of a section of curtain painted by John Piper in 1942 for the Edith Sitwell/William Walton production of Façade. So, who exactly was John Piper?

John Egerton Christmas Piper  (born 13 December 1903 – died 28 June 1992) was an English painter and print-maker. For much of his life he lived at Fawley Bottom in Buckinghamshire, near Henley-on-Thames. Piper, the son of a solicitor, was meant to follow in his father’s profession, but instead went to the Richmond School of Art, and later, the Royal College of Art in London.

  • During the early 1940’s Piper was invited to the Sitwell household at Renishaw Hall, by Edith Sitwell’s brother Osbert. Over a period of time, Osbert asked Piper to paint the house and illustrate an autobiography he was writing.
  • Piper also met Edith, who, for 20 years, had been exploring the relationship between music and poetry which culminated in the production of Façade; a series of abstract poems and rhythms which composer William Walton counter-parted with music.
  • In her1942 stage production of Façade, Edith stood behind a curtain designed by Piper. His curtain depicted a painted face with a hole in the mouth. Edith then placed a megaphone through the hole in the curtain and began her recitation.
  • On the first night of Façade, the audience were bemused by her strange production.
  • Like many first-night receptions, some of the audience embraced the work, whilst others were shocked.
  • Interestingly, among the audience were Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward; and it appears that Coward was so outraged by the avant-garde nature of the performance, that he stormed out of the theater.
  • The following day, some of the Press responded with headlines such as:  “Drivel That They Paid to Hear”.  
  • Ultimately, it took about 10 years before the public accepted this work which was converted to a popular ballet of the same name choreographed by Frederick Ashton.

Finally, a quote from the artist may provide some clarity to his art. “Abstraction is the way to the heart — it is not the heart itself”.

For further examples of items like this, see my Textiles page.

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