John Piper

(03) Knowlton

  • Signed and dated '41' (lower right)
  • Watercolour, gouache, pen and ink
  • 15.25 x 20 ins

On Loan

Knowlton is a place that Piper depicted many times, over a long period. The 12th century stone-and-flint Norman Church is a unique site in that it sits inside a Neolithic earthwork henge, symbolising the radical change between Paganism and Christianity throughout Britain. Piper was drawn to it for many reasons, not least for this juxtaposition and for its link to the Romantic tradition.

Piper was particularly aware of the place medieval ruins held in 18th century Romantic art and looked to artists such as Turner and John Sell Cotman for inspiration. Having visited Sir Michael Sadler's collection of Cotmans in 1939, Piper wrote in The Architectural Review:

"He saw a desecrated chapel or a decrepit brick wall toppling above long grass as a symbol full of meaning. For he saw in such things the symbolic flames of his own life from which he hoped (with increasing despair) that a phoenix would rise."