John Piper: Top Prices Paid at Auction

Written by - Sheena Carrington
Abstracted canvas with greys, blues, purples, yellows, and pinks arranged in vertical and horizontal geometric forms. The central area is white with thin black lines overlaid.Image © Christie’s / Abstraction © John Piper 1937
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Modern British artist John Piper distinguishes himself through his exceptional versatility and capacity to navigate various artistic styles and eras throughout his illustrious career. Piper showcases a remarkable breadth of artistic expression from his abstract compositions to more figurative representations. For art enthusiasts looking to include Modern British masterpieces in their collections, Piper's prints offer an accessible and cost-effective investment avenue, providing an entry point to explore his diverse body of work and appreciate his significant contributions to the tapestry of British art history.

Piper's journey in the art market has followed a noteworthy trajectory, primarily centred around London, underscoring a localised demand for his creations. Piper's more abstract pieces are relatively rare in the market, intensifying their allure and consequently commanding high prices.

£482,500 for Painting


Abstract painting with vibrant reds, blues, greys, whites, and browns arranged in vertical geometric formations spanning the canvas from left to right. Overlapping white lines in the center of the canvas create an additional optical illusion.Image © Christie’s / Painting © John Piper 1935

The 1930s marked a pivotal period in John Piper's artistic journey, witnessing the emergence of his matured style. During this defining era, he embraced a more abstract approach that sought to distil the pure essence of his art through meticulous material exploration. Painting (1935) encapsulates Piper's unwavering commitment to this vision. Employing a constructivist technique, he excised specific sections of the canvas and applied a diverse palette of paint, and bold colours, resulting in a tapestry of textures on panel that interplay harmoniously with fractured geometric forms, forming a seamless union. This particular painting serves as a quintessential representation of British Abstraction.

Painting boasts an illustrious exhibition history, with a notable presentation at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2003. Its significance was further underscored by setting Piper's auction record commanding £482,500 (fees included) at Christie's in November 2013.

£371,250 for Forms On A White Ground


Abstracted predominantly white canvas with grey, purple, blue, and brown geometric forms. A focal point of black is centered, with pops of red dispersed in abstracted geometric shapes.Image © Christie's / Forms On A White Ground 1935

Forms On A White Ground (1935) exemplifies a striking display of boldly hued cut canvas laid meticulously upon a panel, painted in a spectrum of whites and greys. This intricate composition interlaces geometric shapes, exploring the interplay between intersecting geometries. John Piper strategically introduces a black rectangle with an appended semicircle at the artwork's core, establishing a focal point that amplifies the visual impact and spatial depth. The intentional placement of this black element guides the viewer's gaze towards specific geometric configurations, elevating its dynamism and abstract intricacy.

This artwork boasts an illustrious provenance that traces back to Sir Clifford Norton, an officer in World War I and the ambassador is Athens. Norton acquired this piece from Piper in 1966 and consigned it to Christie's, where it initially achieved a hammer price of £24,997. In June 2020, the painting resurfaced at Christie's in 2020, achieving £371,250 (fees included). These two sales unequivocally underscore the escalating value of Piper's paintings and the coveted nature of his abstract works.

£362,500 for Abstract Painting


Abstract canvas with blues, black, grey, purple, and white, highlighted by pops of orange and yellow. The composition consists of vertical formations from right to left, divided into horizontal geometric shapes by overlapping black lines.Image © Christie’s/ Abstract Painting © John Piper 1935

Abstract Painting (1935) showcases an intricate interplay of geometric forms that create tactile textures through partially cut canvas and a masterful orchestration of colours. In this particular artwork, John Piper employs black geometries skillfully cut by various shapes in shades of grey. This arrangement achieves a dynamic equilibrium, guiding the viewer's gaze through the composition and providing an expressive and less representational viewing experience. Additionally, fine black lines strategically disrupt the harmonious balance within the intersecting white and orange focal points. Piper's meticulous focus on geometry becomes apparent as he masterfully divides the composition using vertical colour elements. However, he skillfully reunites these disjointed colours through a unifying network of fine-dotted black lines, emphasising his deliberate and thoughtful approach.

Abstract Painting achieved £362,500 (fees included), at Christie's in November 2015.

£325,250 for Forms On Dark Blue


Abstract painting featuring intersecting beige, white, black, blue, and green vertical lines at various angles, bordered by a blue perimeter.Image © Sotheby's / Forms On Dark Blue 1936

Forms On Dark Blue (1936) explores spatial relationships with a depth that resonates with the sculptural achievements of its time. This painting has been showcased in prestigious London institutions, including the Tate, and was a highlight of the John Piper retrospective, John Piper: 50 Years of Work, in 1979 at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford.

Created during Piper's exposure to Ben Nicholson and Alexander Calder in Paris, it reflects their influence on his early yet mature work. This pivotal phase contributed to the development of Modernism in Britain. Forms On Dark Blue holds its position within Piper's highest-selling works, achieving £325,250 (fees included) at Sotheby's in July 2008, affirming its unmatched merit in over a decade.

£265,250 for Painting


 Large diptych canvas with an abstract arrangement of vertical lines in various hues.Image © Sotheby's / Painting © John Piper 1937

Painting (1937) comprises a large-scale diptych, with strategically placed black, white, and orange accents creating a striking contrast against the prevailing subdued blue tones that dominate the composition. This intentional juxtaposition invites viewers to embark on a visual journey, moving from right to left, as they unravel the geometric interplay between form and colour. Painting achieved an impressive sale at Sotheby's in May 2011, commanding a price of £265,250 (fees included). This success firmly establishes it among John Piper's top ten highest-selling works.

£265,250 for Forms On Green Ground


 An abstract canvas with vertical lines intersecting at various geometric points in different hues.Image © Sotheby’s / Forms On Green Ground © John Piper

This artwork is one of John Piper's largest abstract canvases in his esteemed and rare Forms On Ground series. In contrast to earlier works like Forms On White Ground (1935) and Forms On Dark Blue (1936), the title indicates a notable shift towards a green palette. The green tones carry subtle hints of brown, imbuing the piece with an earthy ambience, adding depth and character to the composition. Within this artwork, Piper adeptly emphasises delicate white lines intersecting with various colour abstractions, resulting in an intriguing array of vertical and horizontal forms that captivate the viewer's attention at the centre of the canvas.

Piper's Forms On Ground artworks are exceedingly rare discoveries in the market, often characterised by limited provenance acquired directly from the artist himself. Forms On Green Ground sold at Sotheby's in July 2008, realising £157,250 (fees included), underscoring the desirability and value attributed to these exceptional creations.

£217,250 for Abstraction


An abstract canvas with vertical lines of various colours intersecting at geometric points.Image © Christie’s / Abstraction © John Piper 1937

In Abstraction (1937), John Piper embarks on an ambitious journey into an expanded colour palette. Employing his distinctive technique of integrating canvas cutouts and direct paint application to the board, this artwork reveals a diverse range of vertical hues. A striking pattern of thin vertical blue and purple strips, forming a rectangular shape on the left side of the canvas, immediately captures the viewer's attention juxtaposed with the other solid colours. This arrangement guides the viewer toward the canvas's centre, marked by a prominent white area intersected by black lines at the top and bottom. This visual journey leads the viewer's gaze to the canvas's perimeter, a characteristic feature of John Piper's artistic language.

Abstraction achieved a notable sale price of £217,250 at Christie's in May 2010, highlighting its inherent value and desirability within the art market.

£142,400 for Binham Priory, Norfolk


A semi-abstract figurative representation of a church with blended shades of colour, evoking an eerie sense of the church being on fire, created in the post-war period.Image © Christie’s / Binham Priory, Norfolk © John Piper

John Piper's artistic journey took an intriguing turn during his tenure as an official war artist in 1944, soon after completing his studies at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1928. During this period, he documented the aftermath of bombed and damaged buildings, likely influencing the emergence of his distinctive, introspective style reminiscent of Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Binham Priory, Norfolk, encapsulates both the elements of a war scene and a whimsical, romanticised church, exemplifying Piper's artistic evolution. The application of paint is characterised by freely executed brushstrokes in dark greys and blues, evoking an ominous atmosphere associated with warfare. Yet, shades of yellows and oranges introduce a fleeting moment, suggesting either the presence of sunlight or, more evocatively, flames flickering through a window. Although the precise date of this enigmatic artwork remains unknown, it is likely attributed to the 1950s.

Binham Priory, Norfolk, with its perplexing and enigmatic qualities, stands among John Piper's top-selling works achieving £142,400 (fees included) at Christie's in November 2006.

£118,750 for Sea Buildings


An abstract artwork with vertical, semi-curved delineations in various hues, forming a focal point in the center. The perimeter is predominantly painted brown, with a grey area on the panel left unpainted, creating the illusion of land and sea.Image © Christie’s / Sea Buildings © John Piper 1938

Sea Buildings (1938) marks a significant juncture in John Piper's artistic journey, characterised by subtle hints of representational elements emerging both in the work and its title. In keeping with Piper's distinctive style, Sea Buildings employs a collage-like technique, incorporating painted sections of cut-out canvas overlaid on a wooden panel. Notably, Piper consciously chose to leave a substantial portion of the grey wooden panel unpainted, contrasting with the fully painted brown perimeter, creating an effect resembling land and sea. Distinct from his other abstract creations, which often feature non-referential and straightforward titles, Sea Buildings bears a more specific designation, hinting at a potential source of inspiration derived from the sea, a theme prevalent among many of Piper's contemporaries working in Modern British abstraction.

Sea Buildings is significant in John Piper's body of work, with two appearances on the secondary market, and ranks among his top-selling works. It first appeared at Bonhams in November 2007, achieving a hammer price of £86,000. Subsequently, it resurfaced at Christie's in June 2018, realising £118,750 (fees included), further solidifying its status as one of Piper's most sought-after pieces.

£110,500 for Portland Stone Perspective


A semi-abstract, semi-figurative artwork in various hues depicting architectural buildings in varying shades, delineated by thin black lines. The scene portrays a seaside town with a curving road in the centre leading to the sea in the distance.Image © Christie’s / Portland Stone Perspective © John Piper 1954

Following John Piper's foray into abstraction and emerging during the mid-1950s, Portland Stone Perspective (1954) provides a suggestive glimpse of Chesil Beach in Portland, Canada. In this artwork, a notable shift towards figuration becomes apparent. While traces of abstraction persist in the architecture, buildings, and possibly churches on the right side of the painting, these elements gradually guide the viewer towards the rocky shore and the surrounding coastal waters. On the opposite side of the composition, an abstracted, curving road comes into view, flanked by architectonic forms characterised by shades of grey that spring to life through delicate black lines.

Portland Stone Perspective is a prime example of Piper's figurative phase, though it retains a tangible sense of abstraction. This painting ranks among Piper's top-selling works, achieving a final price of £110,500 (fees included) at Christie's London in November 2013.

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