Paul Nash in Oxfordshire

At the moment there is an exhibition of Paul Nash’s work on at Tate Britain. While the Cubists and Fauves were making a name for themselves, Nash started on another route deeply embedded in the English style of painting. His early background was typical for British artists of the time: public school, Slade school, struggling artist, British army in the Great war.

Menin Road paintingHis wartime experiences in the trenches moulded his early work to a large degree. By the later stages of the war he had become an official war artist and was responsible for some of the most powerful images that time produced.

In the inter-war years he lived in Oxford. Nash’s influences stretch back to Samuel Palmer and William Blake. Together with painters like Graham Sutherland and John Piper (who also lived in Oxfordshire, near Henley-on-Thames), he revitalised landscape painting during the Surrealist period between the wars. His involvement and interests also spread to book design, theatre, and ceramics, though he was usually avoided any form of figure drawing.

Landscape of Wittenham ClumpsWhat is of local interest is the places he liked working from. Wittenham Clumps must be still pretty much the same as when he painted them. The famous war picture of crashed German planes was in fact a scrap yard at Cowley. In the actual scrap yard there were many British planes. These were left out of the picture for propaganda reasons.

Cowley scrap yardNash enjoyed poor health for most of his adult life. His influence on art after his death continued with book illustrators like Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious who he taught at the Royal College of Art.

Eric Ravilious drawing of Bawden
Eric Ravilious: Edward Burden at work.

Artists like Graham Sutherland worked on landscapes in a similar way. Nash became the most notable painter of the interwar years. Go to the Tate Gallery and see for yourself.

landscape by Graham Sutherland
Graham Sutherland Landscape

Graham Sutherland and John Piper both continued to work for another two decades after Nash.

John Piper
John Piper’s depiction of air raid shelter designs at Woburn Abbey

John Nash, Paul’s younger brother, had similar interests and was a distinguished artist in his own right.

The exhibition of Paul Nash’s work is on show at Tate Britain until 5th March 2017, moving to The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich (8th April -20th August 2017) and Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle (9th September 2017 – end of January 2018).