Friday, 5 August 2011

John Piper in Kent and Sussex and Charles Lock Eastlake at the National Gallery

John Piper: Brighton Pavilion, 1938
I have just returned from an intensive 3-week trip around the country, visiting over 30 historic country houses. I found good examples for the use of silver in interior decoration and some exciting colour samples in lesser known John Nash buildings. Of this more in a little while.

This post is just to draw attention to two colour-related exhibitions I must not miss and would like to recommend. They neatly span the 19th and 20th century. I have not been to either of them but will go soon.

The National Gallery, London, has put on an exhibition celebrating the life and work of its first Director, Charles Lock Eastlake (1793–1865), who translated the didactic part of Goethe's Zur Farbenlehre into English, published in 1840 as Theory of Colours .  He was a friend of Turner, whose heavily annotated copy of Eastlake's translation I have mentioned before, and later corresponded with Arthur Schopenhauer, discussing colour theory.
 Art for the Nation: Sir Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery
27 July – 30 October 2011
Admission free
Charles Lock Eastlake (1793–1865)
At the marvellous Towner Gallery in Eastbourne you can currently see John Piper in Kent and Sussex, which should be a feast for the eyes.

2 July – 25 September 2011
Masterpieces and hidden treasures tell story of John Piper’s love of the local landscape.

On my tour of historic country houses I didn't get to see much 20th century and contemporary art, but two small John Piper drawings at Chatsworth were one of the highlights on the trip for me. I love the way Piper interprets architectural colour in his collages and paintings. His palette is strong, with stark contrasts, and more often than not juxtaposed with a dark, threatening sky or background. His depictions of bombed out building during and after the war are particularly moving, with bright primary colours oozing out of darkness and destruction.

John Piper's baptistry window at Coventry Cathedral
He was later chosen by Sir Basil Spence (architect of my Alma Mater the University of Sussex) to design the large stained glass Baptistry window in Spence's new Coventry Cathedral.

Here at Sussex University he made a long rectangular tapestry for Spence's Meeting House (a particular interest of mine). His love for abstract colour design doesn't work quite as well in this particular tapestry (a much better example can be found at Chichester Cathedral) but he nicely mirrored the colour scheme of the surrounding glass in this circular building.
Interior of Basil Spence's Meeting House chapel at the University of Sussex, 1966 
The tapestry is currently being cleaned, while the Meeting House is undergoing major restoration.