The son of a solicitor, Piper became an articled clerk in his father’s firm in 1921. After his father’s death in 1926, Piper left the firm and enrolled at the Richmond School of Art. He transferred to the Royal College of Art the following year. He began exhibiting with the London group in 1931 and had his first large exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery, London in 1933. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1972.
Piper’s work is extremely diverse, ranging from abstract compositions executed in textured planes of colour, to landscapes featuring gothic buildings, to rather mystical or religious stories and to stunning still-lifes. Piper also designed costumes for the theatre. His admiraton of stained-glass windows is evident in his work. His vibrant palette imbues his paintings with a jewel-like brilliancy, which, combined with stunning scenery and dramatic buildings, often creates the impression that his paintings could even be used as designs for the stage. John Betjeman recalled:
“’From 1938...he made regular tours to various parts of England and Wales, looking for stained glass, churches with box-pews in a Cotman state of picturesque decay, ruins, early industrial scenery, Welsh lakes and waterfalls, country houses, Yorkshire caves. He came back with hundreds of watercolours and material for later oils”’.