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Details & Cataloguing

Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection

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John Piper, C.H.
1903-1992
NOTLEY ABBEY
signed
watercolour, gouache, pen and ink and chalk on paper
39 by 54cm.; 15¼ by 21¼in.
Executed circa 1946.
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Provenance

Acquired from the Artist circa December 1946

Literature

Photographed in the drawing room at Durham Cottage, Chelsea before 1954;
Anthony Denney, 'The Oliviers off stage', House and Garden, May 1958, p. 65, illustrated in Laurence's study at Eaton Square, Belgravia, p. 63.

Catalogue Note

Together with a Christmas card that Vivien and Larry created featuring a reproduction of the present work.

'I always look for the gables of Notley Abbey across the fields from that lovely road between Long Crendon and Waddesdon, and would enjoy a chance of trying a drawing or watercolour of it...'
John Piper, 1946
(letter to Vivien Leigh, 27th November 1946, The Vivien Leigh Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, THM/433/2/16)

John Piper spent a lifetime exploring historic architecture across Britain. His interest had taken on an added significance during World War II when so many buildings and monuments were destroyed by the Blitz and his series of paintings capturing the ruinous aftermath of the bombing of Coventry Cathedral are amongst the most poignant images of the Home Front. As Chairman of the War Artists Advisory Committee, Vivien's great friend Kenneth Clark had been instrumental to Piper's involvement as an Official War artist and also secured what is now one of his most famous commissions, that from Queen Elizabeth to paint a series of watercolours of Windsor Castle in the early 1940s which were intended to serve as a record in case the Castle was bombed. The resulting paintings display Piper’s topographical draughtsmanship at its best, filled with his characteristically dramatic skies, a quality which prompted King George VI’s famous remark: ‘you seem to have very bad luck with your weather, Mr Piper’. Painting only a few years later at Notley, Piper has captured the same sense of extensive history. The castellated tower and several wings of accommodation are brought to life in a warm and rich palette, nestled beneath brooding skies.

Piper wrote directly to Vivien to ask if he could paint Notley, no doubt encouraged by Kenneth Clark's description of the place, knowing full well that he would like the atmosphere there. He assured Vivien: 'In case the price is a worry, it would be about £25 if it comes off, and nothing of course if it doesn't! But I hope it will' (ibid.).

Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection

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London