HAHG Lecture: Art and Design in the Chilterns

Graham Twemlow, gave a delightful talk to the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group on 6 March about the artists and designers of the 20th century who lived in and drew their inspiration from the Chilterns.

Artists have long painted scenes in the Chilterns, from Jan Siberechts’ 17th-century view of Henley, to Turner, Edmund Niemann and Samuel Palmer in the 19th century. But it was during the 20th century that artists were particularly drawn to the area. The brothers John and Paul Nash spent their formative years in Buckinghamshire. After the First World War in which they first served as army officers and later became war artists, they moved to Chalfont St Peter and Gerrards Cross respectively. They painted rural scenes, often featuring such landmarks as Wittenham Clumps and Whiteleaf Cross; later Paul’s work took a somewhat surrealist turn, which influenced the character of his work as a war artist in World War II.

Perhaps the most famous artist of the Chilterns was John Piper who lived at Fawley Bottom with his wife Myfanwy. Piper’s choice of subjects extended far beyond just the Chilterns, and included atmospheric paintings of buildings throughout the country. Piper also worked in applied and decorative arts, producing illustrations for books such as the Shell travel guides, stained glass (including that in Nettlebed church) and theatrical sets.

Other decorative and applied artists resided in the area, notably the sculptor and calligrapher Eric Gill, who lived at Speen in Buckinghamshire. Gill was particularly well-known for his sculptures on Broadcasting House and the design of the Gill Sans typeface, originally used for the London Underground. Book illustrator and author Clare Leighton spent time at Monks Risborough and graphic designer Edward McKnight Kauffer (who designed posters for Shell and London Underground) had a weekend house in North End.

How lucky we are to live in such a beautiful and inspiring area!