John Piper

Variation 13

  • Signed (lower right)
  • Watercolour, gouache and collage
  • 20 x 30 ins


Sale; Christie's, 23 March 1961, sold on behalf of the Aldeburgh Festival of Music & The Arts, where purchased by the previous owner

Please note the price of this work is subject to Artist's Resale Right (an EU royalty of up to 4%)

In 1942 Benjamin Britten moved to Aldeburgh, a small seaside town on theSuffolk coast. There he established, in 1948, the first Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts. When Piper saw the first programme book, he praised it highly, stating that he thought it would become 'a permanent and important English Institution'. Piper and his wife, the librettist Myfanwy, attended the festival regularly over the years, often staying with Britten at Crag House and subsequently at The Red House. The success of the festival, originally intended for opera, meant that over the years it was extended to include readings of poetry, literature, drama, lectures and exhibitions of art.

In 1960 Britten sent out an appeal for donations of manuscripts, paintings, sculpture and books for a charity auction to be held at Christie's in aid of The Festival. The main reason funds were needed was to improve the facilities of The Festival and for the purchase of a small building in the centre of Aldeburgh to hold exhibitions which had 'hitherto received a very inadequate showing'. The most eminent artists of the day including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland, promised works and of course so too did John Piper. The auction was held at Christie's in King Street on March 23rd 1961 and raised just over £11,000.

Variation 13 by John Piper was one of the donations, and has been in a private collection ever since being purchased at the auction. The use of musical manuscript in the collage is not only a nod to the nature of the festival but also looks back to Piper's earlier works of the 1930s in which he incorporated musical manuscripts in his experiments with papier collé. The work also reflects, in its abstraction, Piper's stained glass windows for Coventry Cathedral (Cat. no.20 and 21) which he would have been working on at the same time as executing Variation 13.

Piper was passionate about music and this work reflects this interest and close association throughout his career with one of the most celebrated 20th Century composers.