Livery Society AGM and Talk

The AGM of the Bakers Livery Society took place on Monday 26th February.

Despite the best attempt by the ‘Beast of the East’ to disrupt our evening, a healthy 25 or so Liverymen & their guests were still able to attend including, most importantly, our guest speaker, Claire Woods, from the River & Rowing Museum in Henley.

As ever, the ‘business’ of the AGM took place in jig time, and we were able to turn our attention to Claire, whose talk was titled ‘John Piper-a Very British Artist.’

In December 2016, the River & Rowing Museum became the proud ‘owner’ of the first permanent gallery dedicated to Piper, who lived locally. This was enabled through a very successful crowd funding, in conjunction with the Art Fund’s ‘Art Happens’ programme.

Piper (1903-1992) was a prolific English polymath; he was a painter, a print maker, a designer of stained glass windows, and a designer of theatre sets (including the set for the first performance of Britten’s Death in Venice). He collaborated with poets (e.g. John Betjeman), choreographers (e.g. John Cranko), ceramicists and composers.

Claire painted a delightful image of Piper and his wife Myfanwy regularly entertaining fellow artists at their home - Fawley Bottom Farmhouse (or ‘Fawley Bum’ as Betjeman called it!). 

A stay in Paris saw Piper exposed to Picasso’s cubist work, and this resulted in a long series of totally abstract works with geometric shapes in primary colours (see image).

As the Second World War approached, and also around the time of the birth of his first son, Piper began to reject abstraction. He felt passionately that he should capture the beauty of the historic buildings and churches in Britain before they were destroyed.  
He was appointed an official war artist in 1939 and in 1940 he recorded the smouldering remains of Coventry Cathedral in what was to become one of Piper’s classic works.

More than 20 Years later, the ‘new’ Coventry Cathedral was consecrated - including a massive 84ft tall and 57ft wide Piper stained glass window-which had the audience gasping at its sheer beauty as Claire’s slide popped up (see image).

In November 1967, the Bakers commissioned Piper to design three windows for its Hall; the ‘new’ Hall had no windows at all when it was first built. Piper submitted his initial idea, which was based around baking-a pair of scales, a loaf-shape and perhaps a cornfield. This was swiftly rejected by the Company! 

Five months later, in March 1968, Piper submitted his second idea - which needs no introduction and to which the Company declared its ‘absolute satisfaction and delight’ and huge ‘delight’ it continues to bring to this day.

After some searching Q&A we all had a glass of fizz and then a relaxing and enjoyable supper in the Hall.

Huge thanks once again to Claire and the River & Rowing Museum for the highly informative and customized talk & presentation. 
If you missed it, Claire has left us with a copy of her script, and her images, so please let me know if you would like one.

Max Elvidge
Chairman of the Liver Society