John Piper was born in Epsom, Surrey. He was articled in his father's legal practice before studying at Richmond School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London. His real interests were in, as he put it, 'man-made monuments from pre-historic times to the present day'. After leaving the Royal College he worked in several fields: stage design, book illustration and as a writer of reviews and criticism. In 1940 he was appointed an Official War Artist, and this enabled him to continue travelling throughout the country, recording buildings, many of them badly damaged, but he was never interested solely in architecture, but in the spirit of a place, in the surroundings that gave a place its particular emphasis and context. This lead to a series of landscape works featuring natural beauty and drama.