John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art by Frances Spalding - review by Sarah Bradford

Sarah Bradford

Shared Passions

John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art


Oxford University Press 584pp £25 order from our bookshop

In the final paragraph of this intertwined biography of John and Myfanwy Piper, Frances Spalding writes of Myfanwy’s death on 18 January 1997. It happened at Fawley Bottom, the Oxfordshire farmhouse where she had lived for sixty-two years, mostly ‘with John, in a complementary relationship which had permitted two individuals, with different gifts and personalities, to act like pillars of the same arch, creating an axis through which and around which people and ideas came and went’. A few pages earlier she quotes John Mortimer on John’s funeral: 

The sun came out and brightened the churchyard. The church was full of flowers from the Piper garden and the gardens of friends. His grandchildren read poetry, and three tall grandsons and his youngest son carried him to his resting place beside a sunlit field. It was all that John Piper had loved and which he had made the subject of his art: flowers, an English church in an English landscape.

John and Myfanwy were, indeed, a complementary couple; a fact they seem to have realised the moment they first laid eyes on each other in June 1934. Spalding describes how Piper, whose marriage to Eileen Holding was already unravelling, was staying for the weekend with Ivon Hitchens at

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