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Where can the work of the artist John Napper be seen

00:00 Mon 09th Apr 2001 |

asks Kriskwery

A. It is hard to get to see work by John Napper, who died in March this year, because he tends to sell his work to private collectors and exhibit in small regional galleries. There isn't really anything to be seen in the places that you may expect work of an artist of Napper's reputation to be found, such as the National Portrait Gallery or Tate Modern.


Rugby Collection of Modern Art has some of his work and Christie's bought a piece called The New Aga in the mid 1990s.


The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool has his portrait of the Queen that was commissioned by Liverpool Corporation before the coronation in 1952. On seeing the results they rejected the portrait, claiming that it was not a good likeness - in particular that the neck was too long. Napper later conceded that it was 'not a portrait of the Queen, but a queen.'


Q. Who was he
A. Born in 1916, the son of an opera singer mother and an actor and water-colourist father, Napper always wanted to be a painter. After studying in Dundee and at the Royal Academy in London, he developed into a technically superb painter. During the Second World War he became a war artist in Ceylon and East Africa, and the vibrancy of colour he found in the tropics profoundly influenced his work. After the war, as well as teaching, he painted society portraits of 'girls in pearls'.


Not wanting to get stuck in this rut, he moved to Paris, where he produced dark, brooding oils. He then moved on to Brittany (where he befriended the Cubist Georges Braque), and he began a life-long love affair with folk music. After a sojourn in the USA, he returned to Britain in 1971 and settled in Ludlow, Shropshire, where he lived until his death.


Q. What is significant about his work
A. Evident in Napper's work are the traditional qualities of sound craftsmanship. His subjects included his wife, domestic interiors, landscapes, animals, birds, buildings and mythological series, in which all these elements had a place.


His influences were as wide ranging as Japanese traditional prints and woodcuts - particularly Hokusai - Giorgione, Poussin, Piero della Francesca and, perhaps surprisingly, the American underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. His paintings appear simple, but they are, in reality, remarkably controlled feats of technical brilliance.


This is especially true of his watercolours, his principal medium in the last 15 or so years of his life, in which he invented a unique way of focusing the radiance of colour, calling to mind both Turner and Whistler.


Q. Who commissioned and collected his work
A.
Napper's association with the Earl of Plymouth, who became a kind of patron to him, began before he moved to Paris, and it was in a cottage on the Earl's estate that Napper lived after his return and where he produced some of his best work. Another high profile fan is the Prince of Wales, whose portrait he painted in 1996, and he is one of Napper's most enthusiastic collectors. Recently Napper had begun to work in stained glass. He designed a window for the Prince of Wales's temple in the grounds of Highgrove, and had recently started another for the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace in London.

If anyone knows any other galleries where John Napper's work can be seen, let us know here.


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By Simon Smith

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