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1903 – 1992

Entrance to Fonthill
1940
Oil on wood
63.5 x 76 cm
Purchased with aid from the Wakefield Permanent Art Fund, 1940 © The Estate of John Piper. All rights reserved, DACS 2017. Photographer Norman Taylor

 

In the 1930s, Piper became the secretary of the Seven and Five Society, a group of abstract artists, which included Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson. By the end of the decade, however, he had abandoned strict abstraction in favour of a more romantic portrayal of buildings and places.

This painting shows the ruins of Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire, which in 1796 William Beckford commissioned as his personal residence. It took the architect James Wyatt, with five hundred labourers, more than seventeen years to build, and once completed, Beckford used only a single bedroom. Piper’s painting is perhaps a reflection on the vanity of human effort.