It is likely that both this work and the related collage, Beach with Starfish, 1933–4 (Tate Gallery, London), were included in John Piper’s first solo exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery, London in 1933.
Beach and Star Fish, Seven Sister’s Cliff, Eastbourne, 1933–4, is informed by Piper’s understanding of contemporary French art. Introduced to the work of Braque by H.S. Ede, Piper would frequent the Zwemmer bookshop on Charing Cross Road, seeking out books on Braque, Matisee and Picasso. In the late 1920s there were no monographs on Picasso, so instead Piper collected images of his work in scrapbooks. Later, in 1935, he made a special trip to Paris to see Picasso’s papiers collées at the Galerie Pierre.
In this work the layering and shaping of paper is used to emphasise the rhythms of the landscape. The lighthouse perches on a cliff edge and a sensitively painted flag blows in the wind. Behind, the cliffs rise up in changing shades of grey and, in the foreground, starfish and shells suggest a beach strewn with objects from the sea. Over these elements Piper has painted his interpretation of the beach in a series of gestural marks, suggesting the effects of light, wind and waves.
In 1937, Piper wrote an article 1 in which he identified the two most important, underlying subjects in his work. The first was a room and the second was the structure on a beach, or as he called it the ‘beach-machine.’ This landscape offered Piper both the possibility of man-made structures, such as the lighthouse,
and also a vast range of inspiration from the changing natural climate of the beach and sea. Piper’s descriptions of this subject are often abstract and subjective and the article is made up of various musings which reflect this. The weather, he writes, ‘…is stormy, also quite calm, according to the way you look at it’, and,
‘There are chalk cliffs that are often clear grey, and other colours that sometimes contradict the facts, but they just manage to be recognizable as cliffs.’ 2
The artist’s evident fascination with this subject is conveyed in Beach and Star Fish, Seven Sister’s Cliff, Eastbourne. Here, Piper combines form, colour and found objects in a spontaneous and intuitive manner to produce a lively and poetic evocation of his beloved British landscape.
1 ‘Lost, A Valuable Object’ ed. Myfanwy Evans, The Painter’s Object, 1937
2 S. John Woods, John Piper, Paintings, Drawings and Theatre Design, Faber and
Faber, London, 1955, unpaginated