There’s more than one reason to hold an exhibition of the Modern British artist John Piper’s work in Aldeburgh.
Thompson’s Gallery holds its John Piper: Paintings and Prints exhibition from April 15-May 15 in the East Anglian town.
Piper (1903-92), who produced stormy, romantic views of the English landscape and its monuments, represented the region many times.
At his hands, Suffolk church towers are shown in dark dramatic tones and white houses are brightly lit along the coast behind choppy grey sea.
He also designed the stained-glass windows at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Aldeburgh. And that’s just for starters.
Another of his links to the region comes through his friendship and collaboration with the composer Benjamin Britten (1913-76) who launched the ongoing Aldeburgh Festival of classical music. Piper was the stage designer for eight of his operas including The Rape of Lucretia and Death in Venice, and his wife, Myfanwy Piper, often collaborated with Britten on the librettos.
This year, Snape Maltings, which Britten established as a concert venue for the festival, celebrates its 50th anniversary. At the same time Thompson’s celebrates its 35th year in Aldeburgh.
“With such a strong friendship forged between Britten and Piper I thought it would be nice to have something special to celebrate both events and the connection between them,” says the gallery’s Graham Simper, “especially as many of Piper’s works were influenced by the East Anglian landscape.”
The exhibition brings together 30 of Piper’s paintings and prints, at prices from around £2000-19,000.
In fact, there hardly needs to be an excuse to hold a Piper exhibition these days.
An appetite for his works has been reflected in a recent run of exhibitions and strong results at auction. Last year alone the Bohun Gallery, Pallant House and Jerwood Gallery all featured Piper in dedicated exhibitions, while Portland Gallery staged its second show of his works in three years to accompany the launch of the book The Art of John Piper by David Fraser Jenkins and Hugh Fowler-Wright.
Meanwhile, his paintings consistently perform well in London and regional auction houses, and his 1943 canvas The High Fall took £66,000 at Leicestershire saleroom Gildings last April.
According to Simper, there is even more reason to be optimistic as he notes an extra “buzz” around the dedicated exhibition than there was the last time the gallery featured Piper 10 years ago.
“Pipers have stayed fairly strong in the rooms and people that have got wind of the exhibition immediately prick up their ears and want to know more. There seems to be a lot of excitement about Piper,” Simper adds.
Thompson’s was founded in Aldeburgh in 1982, opening a second location in London in 1991 (the London gallery can be found in Seymour Street as of this month – see Factfile). The Piper show is one of around 10 planned for each location this year.
As is the case with so many dealers, the past 12 months have spelled uncertainty, but now, Simper says, the market seems to be settling down “in general”.
“Life got a bit choppy after the post-Brexit vote and to some degree Trump hasn’t helped but I do feel – or should I say hope? – that normality should return soon.”
And with a favourite like Piper appearing at the gallery soon, there is reason to hold on to that hope.
Thompson’s Gallery’s new London location opened in Marble Arch on March 10.
Its new space is at 3 Seymour Place where the inaugural exhibition is Sophie Levie & James Tweedie, from March 23-April 5.
The gallery also plans to establish an open-air sculpture gallery at this location. The gallery was previously in Marylebone’s Cavendish Street.
It continues to focus on 20th and 21st century artists, Scottish Colourists and contemporary works.