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Paul Nash

British Landscape Painter and War Artist, Photographer, Writer, and Designer

Paul Nash Photo
Movement: Surrealism

Born: May 11, 1889 - Kensington, London, England

Died: July 11, 1946 - Boscombe, Bournemouth, England

"My love of the monstrous and magical led me beyond the confines of natural appearances into unreal worlds."

Summary of Paul Nash

Paul Nash painted deeply romantic and lyrical landscapes subtly re-envisioned through the shards of modernism and the horrors of war. He was a prolific and hugely talented artist, a writer, a photographer, a fine book illustrator and designer of stage scenery, fabrics, and posters, as well as most famously, a painter. Although Nash embraced and encompassed many of the major twentieth century art movements, including Surrealism and abstraction, his intense love for nature and surrounding landscape always remained the primary subject of his work. Indeed, even in his duties as official war artist - during both great wars - while documenting the broken debris of battlefields and feeling traumatized by the destruction that he saw, he still managed to make everything that he depicted appear somehow enchanted; gnarled and broken trees resemble ancient standing stones and sunlight or moonbeams usually peak through. As such Nash gives his viewers a magical gift: the insight that even from death springs rebirth, and furthermore, that the imagination always transforms, even the most horrific of scenes.

Key Ideas

In his deep attachment to the countryside, his persistent understated romance, and his interest in the perpetual cycle of time, there is something quintessentially English about the work of Paul Nash. He is connected to a lineage of the English Romantic poets, and to famous landscape painters, most notably to William Blake and J.M.W. Turner. He was also influenced by the artists Samuel Palmer and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and like all of the above successfully placed English art on an international stage.
Although he never joined any modernist movements, Nash worked with and had links to some of the most important British artists of the first half of the twentieth century. In the Summer of 1914, before enlisting as a soldier he worked with Roger Fry in the Omega Workshops. In 1933 he established the Unit One group with Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Later in the 1930s, he became close with Eileen Agar and started to write about "seaside surrealism".
Nash successfully exposed the "bitter truth" of war through a series of muddy trench pictures from WWI; he created invaluable documentary material of changes to the landscape experienced following trench warfare. During WWII Nash produced a series called "aerial creatures", showing German planes crashed in various landscapes. Throughout both wars he was officially employed by the government but remained an ambiguous and highly political individual within the system. Nash once superimposed Hitler's head on one of his wreaked aircraft pictures and wanted these dropped as postcards all over the Third Reich.
In later work, Nash was heavily influenced by Surrealism, and especially by the 1928 Giorgio de Chirico exhibition that he had seen in London. Unlike other Surrealists, he concentrated on mysterious aspects of landscapes rather than the placement of uncanny objects. He was very interested in the impact of man on nature. He explored this relationship in an incredible imaginative feat, through a series of late paintings called "aerial flowers" - thus a combination of complex human invention and the simple beauty of nature - a potential precursor to Salvador Dalí's; iconic image of the Meditative Rose (1958).
Paul Nash Photo

Paul Nash was born in Kensington, London in 1889. He was the son of barrister, William Henry Nash and of navy captain's daughter, Caroline Nash. He was the eldest child, and brother to John (also to become a very accomplished and well-known artist) and Barbara. When Paul was only three years old, his family moved to the Buckinghamshire countryside in an attempt to benefit his mother's deteriorating mental health. The financial cost of his mother's treatment (which included long spells in a hospital) necessitated that the Nashes rent out their family home, during which time Paul and his father lived together in smaller accommodation whilst his siblings attended boarding school. Sadly, the family's efforts were in vain. Nash's mother did not recover and died when the artist was in his early teens.

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