Paul Nash (artist)
Overview
 
Paul Nash was a British landscape painter, surrealist and war artist
War artist
A war artist depicts some aspect of war through art; this might be a pictorial record or it might commemorate how "war shapes lives." War artists have explored a visual and sensory dimension of war which is often absent in written histories or other accounts of warfare.- Definition and context:A...

, as well as a book-illustrator, writer and designer of applied art. He was the older brother of the artist John Nash
John Nash (artist)
John Northcote Nash CBE RA was a British painter of landscape and still-life, wood-engraver and illustrator, particularly of botanic works.-Biography:...

.
The son of a successful lawyer
Lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

 and a mentally unstable mother who died in a mental asylum in 1910, Nash was born in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 on 11 May 1889. He was educated at St Paul's School, and originally intended for a career in the Navy, like his maternal grandfather.
Encyclopedia
Paul Nash was a British landscape painter, surrealist and war artist
War artist
A war artist depicts some aspect of war through art; this might be a pictorial record or it might commemorate how "war shapes lives." War artists have explored a visual and sensory dimension of war which is often absent in written histories or other accounts of warfare.- Definition and context:A...

, as well as a book-illustrator, writer and designer of applied art. He was the older brother of the artist John Nash
John Nash (artist)
John Northcote Nash CBE RA was a British painter of landscape and still-life, wood-engraver and illustrator, particularly of botanic works.-Biography:...

.

Early life

The son of a successful lawyer
Lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

 and a mentally unstable mother who died in a mental asylum in 1910, Nash was born in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 on 11 May 1889. He was educated at St Paul's School, and originally intended for a career in the Navy, like his maternal grandfather. However, he failed his exams, and decided instead to take up art as a career. Studying first at the Chelsea Polytechnic, he went on to the London County Council School of Photo-engraving and Lithography, where his work was spotted and praised by Selwyn Image
Selwyn Image
Selwyn Image was a British clergyman, designer, including of stained glass windows and poet....

. He was advised by his friend, the poet Gordon Bottomley
Gordon Bottomley
Gordon Bottomley was an English poet, known particularly for his verse dramas. He was partly disabled by tubercular illness. His main influences were the later Victorian Romantic poets, the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris.- Background :...

, and by the artist William Rothenstein
William Rothenstein
Sir William Rothenstein was an English painter, draughtsman and writer on art.-Life and work:William Rothenstein was born into a German-Jewish family in Bradford, West Yorkshire. His father, Moritz, emigrated from Germany in 1859 to work in Bradford's burgeoning textile industry...

, that he should attend the Slade School of Art at University College, London. He enrolled there in October 1910, though he later recorded that on his first meeting with the Professor of Drawing, Henry Tonks
Henry Tonks
Henry Tonks, FRCS was a British draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist...

, 'It was evident he considered that neither the Slade, nor I, were likely to derive much benefit'.

The Slade was then opening its doors to a remarkable crop of young talents – what Tonks later described as the School's second and last 'Crisis of Brilliance' (the first had seen such stars as Augustus John
Augustus John
Augustus Edwin John OM, RA, was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in the United Kingdom....

 and Percy Wyndham Lewis). Nash's fellow students included Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson
Benjamin Lauder "Ben" Nicholson, OM was a British painter of abstract compositions , landscape and still-life.-Background and Training:...

, Stanley Spencer
Stanley Spencer
Sir Stanley Spencer was an English painter. Much of his work depicts Biblical scenes, from miracles to Crucifixion, happening not in the Holy Land but in the small Thames-side village where he was born and spent most of his life...

, Mark Gertler, William Roberts
William Roberts (painter)
William Roberts was a British painter of groups of figures and portraits, and was a war artist.-Education and early career:Son of an Irish carpenter and his wife, Roberts was born in Hackney, London...

, Dora Carrington
Dora Carrington
Dora de Houghton Carrington , known generally as Carrington, was a British painter and decorative artist, remembered in part for her association with members of the Bloomsbury Group, especially the writer Lytton Strachey....

, Christopher R. W. Nevinson
Christopher R. W. Nevinson
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson was a British figure and landscape painter, etcher and lithographer. He is often referred to by his initials C. R. W...

 and Edward Wadsworth
Edward Wadsworth
Edward Alexander Wadsworth was an English artist, most famous for his close association with Vorticism. He painted, often in tempera, coastal views, abstracts, portraits and still-life...

. However, he struggled with figure drawing, and spent only a year at the School. Influenced by the poetry of William Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

 and the paintings of Samuel Palmer
Samuel Palmer
Samuel Palmer was a British landscape painter, etcher and printmaker. He was also a prolific writer. Palmer was a key figure in Romanticism in Britain and produced visionary pastoral paintings.-Early life:...

 and Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement,...

, Nash had shows in 1912 and 1913 (sometimes alone, sometimes with his brother John), largely devoted to drawings and watercolours of brooding landscapes. By the summer of 1914 he was enjoying some success.

War artist

At the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Nash reluctantly enlisted in the Artists' Rifles
Artists' Rifles
The Artists Rifles is a volunteer regiment of the British Army. Raised in London in 1859 as a volunteer light infantry unit, the regiment saw active service during the Boer Wars and World War I, earning a number of battle honours; however, it did not serve outside of Britain during World War II, as...

 and was sent to the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 in February 1917 as a second lieutenant
Second Lieutenant
Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces.- United Kingdom and Commonwealth :The rank second lieutenant was introduced throughout the British Army in 1871 to replace the rank of ensign , although it had long been used in the Royal Artillery, Royal...

 in the Hampshire Regiment. A few days before the Ypres
Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

 offensive he fell into a trench. He broke a rib and was invalided home. While recuperating in London, Nash worked from his front-line sketches to produce a series of drawings of the war. This work, which shows the influence of the literary magazine
Literary magazine
A literary magazine is a periodical devoted to literature in a broad sense. Literary magazines usually publish short stories, poetry and essays along with literary criticism, book reviews, biographical profiles of authors, interviews and letters...

 BLAST and the Vorticist movement of which it was a manifesto, was well-received when exhibited later that year at the Goupil Gallery.
As a result of this exhibition, Nevinson advised Nash to approach Charles Masterman, head of the government's War Propaganda Bureau (WPB). Nash was recruited as an official war artist, and in November 1917 he returned to the Western Front where his drawings resulted in his first oil painting
Oil painting
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil—especially in early modern Europe, linseed oil. Often an oil such as linseed was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body...

s. Nash's work during the war included The Menin Road, We Are Making a New World, The Ypres Salient at Night, The Mule Track, A Howitzer Firing, Ruined Country and Spring in the Trenches. They are some of the most powerful and enduring images of the Great War painted by an English artist.

Nash used his opportunity as a war artist to bring home the full horrors of the conflict. As he wrote to his wife from the front on 16 November 1917:


"I am no longer an artist. I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls."


In the early 1920s, Nash, along with several other artists became prominent in the Society of Wood Engravers
Society of Wood Engravers
The Society of Wood Engravers was co-founded in 1920 by British wood engraving artist Gwendoline Raverat, wife of French painter Jacques Raverat.The Society was revived in 1984 by Hilary Paynter. It publishes a bulletin called Multiples....

 and in 1920 was involved in its first exhibition. He became close friends with Eric Fitch Daglish
Eric Fitch Daglish
Eric Fitch Daglish was a British engraver and author. He illustrated classics by Izaak Walton, Henry David Thoreau, Gilbert White and W. H. Hudson with exquisite wood engravings. Daglish also authored a number of natural history and wildlife/countryside books...

 whom he educated in the art of wood engraving and Daglish as a result went on to become a successful engraver.

Nash was also a pioneer of modernism
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

 in Britain, promoting the avant-garde
Avant-garde
Avant-garde means "advance guard" or "vanguard". The adjective form is used in English to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics....

 European styles of abstraction
Abstract art
Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an...

 and surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members....

 in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1933 he co-founded the influential modern art movement Unit One with fellow artists Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Spencer Moore OM CH FBA was an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art....

, Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth
Dame Barbara Hepworth DBE was an English sculptor. Her work exemplifies Modernism, and with such contemporaries as Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo she helped to develop modern art in Britain.-Life and work:Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth was born on 10 January 1903 in Wakefield,...

, Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson
Benjamin Lauder "Ben" Nicholson, OM was a British painter of abstract compositions , landscape and still-life.-Background and Training:...

, Edward Wadsworth
Edward Wadsworth
Edward Alexander Wadsworth was an English artist, most famous for his close association with Vorticism. He painted, often in tempera, coastal views, abstracts, portraits and still-life...

 and the critic Herbert Read
Herbert Read
Sir Herbert Edward Read, DSO, MC was an English anarchist, poet, and critic of literature and art. He was one of the earliest English writers to take notice of existentialism, and was strongly influenced by proto-existentialist thinker Max Stirner....

. It was a short-lived but important move towards the revitalisation of British art in the inter-war period.

During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 Nash was again employed as an official war artist, this time by the Ministry of Information and the Air Ministry
Air Ministry
The Air Ministry was a department of the British Government with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964...

, and paintings he produced during this period include the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

and Totes Meer (Dead Sea).

Nash found much inspiration in British landscape, particularly landscapes with a sense of ancient history, such as burial mounds, Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 hill fort
Hill fort
A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some were used in the post-Roman period...

s such as Wittenham Clumps
Wittenham Clumps
Wittenham Clumps is the commonly used name for a set of small hills in the flat Thames Valley, in the civil parish of Little Wittenham in the English county of Oxfordshire....

 and the standing stones at Avebury
Avebury
Avebury is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles which is located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, south west England. Unique amongst megalithic monuments, Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe, and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain...

 in Wiltshire. When in 1932 he was invited to illustrate a book of his own choice Nash unhesitating choose Sir Thomas Browne
Thomas Browne
Sir Thomas Browne was an English author of varied works which reveal his wide learning in diverse fields including medicine, religion, science and the esoteric....

's Urn Burial and The Garden of Cyrus
The Garden of Cyrus
The Garden of Cyrus or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered is a Discourse written by Sir Thomas Browne. It was first published in 1658, along with its diptych companion, Urn-Burial...

 providing the publisher with a set of no less than 32 illustrations to accompany Browne's Discourses. In his final years, he also returned to the influence of Blake that had so affected his early art, for example in the series of gigantic sunflowers including Sunflower and Sun (1942) and Eclipse of the Sunflower (1945) based on Blake's poem Ah! Sunflower.

Personal life

In 1914 Nash married Margaret Odeh, an Oxford-educated campaigner for Women's Suffrage. They had no children.

Between 1934 and 1936 Paul Nash lived near Swanage
Swanage
Swanage is a coastal town and civil parish in the south east of Dorset, England. It is situated at the eastern end of the Isle of Purbeck, approximately 10 km south of Poole and 40 km east of Dorchester. The parish has a population of 10,124 . Nearby are Ballard Down and Old Harry Rocks,...

, Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

. He produced a considerable number of paintings and photographs during this period.

Nash was asked by John Betjeman to write a book in the pre-war Shell Guide
Shell Guides
The Shell Guides were originally a 20th century series of guidebooks on the counties of Britain. They were aimed at a new breed of car-driving metropolitan tourist, and for those who sought guides that were neither too serious nor too shallow and who took pleasure in the ordinary and peculiar...

 series. Nash accepted and compiled a guide to Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 which features some peculiarities of landscape and architecture that are often overlooked. The guide was published in 1935 and is now particularly rare.

Nash died of heart failure on 11 July 1946, at Boscombe
Boscombe
Boscombe is a suburb of Bournemouth. Located to the east of Bournemouth town centre and west of Southbourne, It developed rapidly from a small village as a seaside resort alongside Bournemouth after the first Boscombe pier was built in 1888...

, Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 and was buried on 17 July, in the churchyard of St. Mary's Church, Langley, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

.

External links

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