Raymond Piper was born in London in 1923 and moved to
Belfast at the age of six. As a young man he attended evening classes at the Belfast College of Art, where he was taught by Newton Penphrase.
He worked for six years in Harland and Wolff’s shipyard as a marine engineer and taught for a time at the
School, Dungannon, before taking up full-time painting in 1948. In 1950 he was awarded a travel scholarship by CEMA with whom he had his first one-man show in 1953.
Well known as a painter of portraits, his work can be found in
City Hall, the Ulster Museum and Queen’s University,
Belfast. Piper numbers among his subjects Lords Mayor of London: Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd, Sir Bernard Waley-Cohen and Sir Frederick Hoare, and Lords Mayor of Belfast: Sir William Geddis, Sir Myles Humphreys and Sir Cecil McKee, and the naturalist and ecologist Robert Lloyd Praeger.
As well as working on a sketch book of ballet he illustrated a number of books: for example, Ulster and the City of Belfast (London: Baker 1950), and Munster and the City of Cork (London: Pheonix House 1964), and more recently, James Fairleigh’s An Irish Beast Book (Belfast: Blackstaff 1975).
While working on Hayward’s Munster and the City of Cork in 1960, Piper’s interest in the Irish orchid developed and from then he travelled all over
Ireland to study and draw the various species. In 1974 his studies on this subject were exhibited in the Natural History Section of the
London, and in the same year he was awarded the John Lindley Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in recognition of his work. He was also elected a fellow of the Linnaean Society,
Exhibitions of Piper’s flower drawings were held at the
Museum in 1975 and at the Royal Dublin Society and Wexford festival in 1976. These studies, such as that of the indigenous wild Irish orchid named Dactylorhiza incarnata subspecies Pulchella (trans. The English Marsh Orchid), are exquisitely drawn and painted. To quote Mike Catto from Art in
Ulster: 2 (1977): 'Botanical illustration is a highly exacting discipline yet artistic beauty (and even symbolism) need not be sacrificed despite the objectivity that the discipline requires.' Piper’s orchid studies are but one aspect of a varied career ranging from portraits to ballet studies of dancers from 1952 to 1960.
Raymond Piper's contribution to the cultural life of
NI was wide-reaching. In 1987, Blackstaff Press published Piper’s Flowers, which contains ten plant studies including five Irish orchids. In September 1988, Piper received the first Beck’s Bursary award for his outstanding services to botanical illustration. In 1991 he was elected Honorary Academician of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, awarded an honorary degree by the Open University in 2000, and in 2002, elected Honorary academician of the Royal Ulster Academy of Art, of which he had been an academician since 1975.
Raymond Piper, artist, born 1923, died July 13, 2007