flies in cloudy amber


The Pipers were an exciting looking couple, he tall and thin with the ascetic physiognomy of an Old Testament prophet, she with the schoolgirl athlete’s body and Dutch doll face poeticized by John Betjeman. Between them, in half a century of married life, they did very many things very well, producing pictures and stained glass, books and magazines, operas and ballets; they brought up four children, travelled and ran a famously hospitable household and productive garden on “simple life” principles. When they met at Ivor Hitchens’s seaside cottage in Suffolk in 1934, Piper was a committed member of Ben Nicholson’s avant-garde Seven and Five group and had started to write book and exhibition notices for the Saturday Review. Already in his thirties and married to a fellow art student, with a spell in the family firm of solicitors behind him, he was in a hurry to get on with the business of being an artist; lately down from Oxford, Myfanwy Evans had returned to London where her father had a chemist’s shop in Jermyn Street. Their courtship produced Axis, a magazine devoted to abstract art, and a future together as highbrow modernists seemed assured until Piper was sent as an official war artist to paint Coventry Cathedral and other damaged or threatened buildings.

more from Ruth Guilding at the TLS here.