Biography

(1916-1991)

An important contributor to American coloristic modernism, Jane Piper studied with Philadelphia's premier avant-garde artists and developed an innovative approach to modern representation that combined the high color of Matisse and the subtle Cubism of Cézanne. Her first teacher of note was Grace Gemberling, a former student of influential painting teacher Arthur B. Carles. She later took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and at the Barnes Foundation, where she had access to both the history of American painting and the important developments of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. The work of both Cézanne and Matisse were important influences throughout her long career.  

Outside these institutions, Piper studied privately with printmaker Earl Horter, who introduced her to Carles. Carles became an important mentor to Piper, both as an instructor and as a promoter of her work; he prompted dealer Robert Carlen to organize her first solo exhibition in 1943. Carles also suggested that Piper study at Hans Hofmann's school in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which she did in 1941.

In her use of prismatic color and broad strokes of pigment to define her compositions, Piper reveals the influence of her teachers as well as her debts to Cézanne and Matisse. She explored abstraction in the early part of her career, using patches of color to structure the space of her canvas. While her work was often highly abstracted, Piper usually based her paintings on still life and landscape, themes that she used throughout her career.

 

After 1960, she deliberately left abstraction to pursue more representational imagery; her later style is characterized by experimentation with the color white that sets off and highlights the high key and kaleidoscopic arrangements of the other colors in the compositions. Piper used white extensively and expertly, and the present work is no exception. Shards of white energetically radiate from all sides of the composition, framing and offsetting the vibrant central still life. One critic observed that "she used white in a way that made it do almost anything she wanted it to do--go back, come forward, stay still, or seem to move." (1)

Although closely associated with her hometown of Philadelphia, Piper also lived in Harlem, Cape Cod, and Spain. It is, perhaps, her Philadelphia teaching career that so closely aligned her with the city. In the mid-1950's, she began teaching at institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts). In this way, Piper continued the lineage of high-keyed Philadelphia abstraction that she inherited.

(1) Larry Day, quoted in Bill Scott, Jane Piper and Her Circle (Harrisburg, Pa.: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, 2000), 7.

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