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John Piper’s Views of Windsor

In her single most important act of patronage, Queen Elizabeth commissioned a series of watercolour views of Windsor Castle from John Piper during the Second World War. They were intended to serve as a record of the Castle in case it was damaged by enemy bombs. The result was a virtuoso performance of topographical draughtsmanship. The dark storm clouds in these watercolours are a dramatic backdrop to the pale grey stone of the Castle and they also give a powerful sense of threat from the skies. Piper sought out dramatic vistas in the Castle, such as the view of the Round Tower sketched from the roof of St George’s Chapel, down the sharp perspective of the Albert Memorial Chapel roof (no. 28), and the sweeping railway lines beyond the Curfew Tower (no. 29). The stormy skies which Piper depicted in every view caused a certain amount of wry comment at the time of the commission. Queen Elizabeth’s Acting Private Secretary, Captain Arthur Penn, described Piper as ‘a slightly melancholy artist, who appears to regard nature through a glass darkly’, whilst King George VI famously remarked to him: ‘you seem to have very bad luck with your weather, Mr Piper’.

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