Harlaxton Manor - John Piper and the Conservatory renovation

Administrative / Biographical History

John Piper (1903 – 1992), a major figure in British art of the twentieth century, trained at the Royal College of Art in London.

In 1934 Piper met Myfanwy Evans, a leading journalist. They founded the contemporary art journal 'Axis', the most adventurous art magazine of its time that featured works from artists such as Mondrian, Paul Nash, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworthand Ben Nicholson. They married in 1937 and settled at Fawley Bottom Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, to which many artists and writers of the day came.

Piper not only explored abstract images in many media but also wrote articles and produced art programs for the early BBC. Just as he gained recognition as an abstract artist, Piper's early interest in architecture and landscape was reignited. He and the poet John Betjeman received a commission to write the 'Shell Guide to Oxfordshire'.

During the Second World War Piper was appointed an official war artist. He recorded the effects of war and in Coventry, Bath, Bristol and elsewhere. He was also part of the project 'Recording Britain' which meant he travelled around the country painting and drawing historic sites thought to be in danger of imminent destruction. At the same time he was also exploring the more romantic vein in English art, writing 'British Romantic Artists' (1942). He was official artist to the Ministry of Transport, producing travel posters and also advertisements for Ealing Film Studios.

By the end of the war Piper's reputation was high. He branched into theatre design, producing many sets and costume ideas for operas by Benjamin Britten and Alun Hoddinott. A further career development came in 1953 when he was commissioned to produce stained-glass windows for the chapel at Oundle School. He went on to help produce many more windows including those for Eton College Chapel and the great Baptistry window in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral. He also designed tapestries for Chichester, Hereford and Llandaff cathedrals, furnishing fabric designs for Sandersons, book jackets and even ceramics, .

His work often focused on the British landscape, especially churches and large country houses. In later years he produced many limited edition prints of these studies. He was fascinated by Harlaxton Manor producing a number of prints that were included in his exhibition 'Victorian Dream Palaces'. Harlaxton College owns two signed prints by John Piper; 'Harlaxton through the Gate' (1977) from the 'Victorian Dream Palaces' collection and 'Harlaxton Blue'. The College also owns a proof of a third print. The John Piper Collection can be seen in the Schroeder Lounge at Harlaxton Manor (by appointment only).

In 1980, to mark the re-opening of Harlaxton's renovated conservatory, an exhibition of prints and drawings by Piper (including the raffle of one of his prints to raise funds for the restoration work) was held at the Manor. Both John and Myfanwy Piper were present at the opening event on May 8th that year.

A high point in Piper's career came in 1972 when he was made a Companion of Honour, and in 1983 when he was honoured with an eightieth-birthday exhibition at the Tate Gallery. He died in 1992 and is buried in the graveyard at Fawley in Oxfordshire.


  • pai/1/1 Article from The Squire, 1980. John Piper exhibition marks renovation of conservatory at Harlaxton Manor
  • pai/1/2John Piper An exhibition to celebrate the re-opening of The Conservatory, Harlaxton Manor, May 1980. Exhibition catalogue. [6 copies]
  • pai/1/3 John Piper Exhibition 1980 - notes
  • pai/1/4 John Piper (1977) Harlaxton Manor [2 x colour photocopies]
  • pai/1/5 Copy of eBay listing dated 2014 for John Piper signed proof with provenance. Harlaxton through the gate, 1977.
  • pai/1/6 John Piper obituary. Daily Telegraph, June 30, 1992
  • pai/1/7 Correspondence dated 2011 relating to exhibition during the 40th anniversary celebrations, 2012, commemorating the John Piper exhibition of 1980. Includes notes of various Harlaxton artworks.
  • pai/1/8 Correspondence dated 1998 from Marion Roberts relating to artwork by David Roberts
  • pai/1/9 Extract from Collins Guide to Cathedrals, Abbeys and Priories of England and Wales, with foreward by John Piper [2 x copies]
  • pai/1/10 Leaflet about John Piper Collection held at Harlaxton Manor (2017)

Access Information

By appointment only

Archivist's Note

Added by Linda Dawes, College Librarian, July 2017

Conditions Governing Use

With permission of copyright holder

Location of Originals

John Piper Collection, Schroeder Lounge, Harlaxton Manor