REVIEW ARTICLE: PAUL NASH (1889-1946) EXHIBITION AT TATE BRITAIN MILLBANK LONDON. 26TH OCTOBER 2016-5TH MARCH 2017.REVIEWER :LAURENCE HUMPHRIES.

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Paul Nash was one of the most important Modernists in Britain to emerge during the post war period. A writer and artist he was an immense innovator during the Post war period in Britain. The Exhibition is split into 9 different Rooms with a subtitle in each room describing Nash’s different themes.

” Paul Nash ( 1889-1946)  was a key figure in debates about British art’s relationship to International modernism through both his art and his writing”. [1].

Influenced by the  Pre-Raphaelites and William Blake at the beginning of his career he came to represent an important development in British  art between the two World wars.

Having seen some of Dante Rossetti’s work Nash developed early drawings very similar in design to William Blake the revolutionary artist of the 19th century.

” Nash’s earliest works were symbolist drawings accompanied by his own poetry and influenced by Dante Rossetti and William Blake”. [2].

Combat of 1910 and Vision of Evening 1911 ,Cliff to the North and Night landscape are some of his earliest works, but it was his evocation of the First world war that brought  Nash to the Public’s eye.

” Nash’s war experience transformed his work. he painted in oil for the first time and discovered a new artistic language of powerfully simplified forms which both conveyed the appearance of ravaged landscapes and suggested violent emotional experiences”. [3].

Although it may appear in some of his work to appear as an anti-war message Nash was no pacifist having fought in the First and Second world wars. We are making a New world , Spring in the trenches and Menin Road are very powerful images.

Places were important to him and some of his landscapes are the most beautiful to look at. The iconography of lush green pastures with very particular geometric features means Nash became a very important artist.

” In the 1920’s Nash became emotionally attached to significant places which inspired sequences of works. He responded both to the specific qualities of the landscape and the feelings and memories that they prompted”. [4].

Places such as Whiteleaf and Dymchurch, Tench pooling gate , Berkshire downs and Wood on the downs and Whiteleaf Cross capture the best of Paul Nash’s work during this time.

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artist; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940-1 by Paul Nash 1889-1946

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Nash  was instrumental in helping to form Unit 1 a very important art group. Frances Spalding discussing Art and politics in the 1930’s brings Paul Nash to the fore of the debate.

” One artist who played a significant role during the early 1930’s was Paul Nash. He was impressed chiefly by the surrealists learning from them themes as he said The extension of liberty of the subject”.[5].

” He remained primarily a landscape artist , though he abstracted and remoulded nature according to his needs. The issue of abstract art however , grew more divisive as the decade progressed.it undermined the Cohesiveness of unit 1 a group of eleven artists whose existence was announced by Paul Nash in a letter to the times on 2nd June 1933″. [6].

” For Nash Unit one was important in publicity stating his commitment to international modernism and positioning himself along other leading British avant-garde artists”. [7].

During this period as a member of Unit 1 Nash produced some of his greatest surrealist works, On the balustrade, Northern adventure, Voyages of the Moon and Poised objects in 1932.

Landscape from a Dream 1936-8 by Paul Nash 1889-1946

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http://www.world-war-pictures.com

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Equivalents for the Megaliths 1935 by Paul Nash 1889-1946

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Three Rooms 1937 by Paul Nash 1889-1946

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In the room devoted to both The Inanimate object and The International Surrealist Exhibition Nash together with other European artists like the Revolutionary Andre Breton became interested in the ideas of the found object.

” Nash was closely connected with the organisation of the International surrealist exhibition in London in June 1936″. [8].

” This exposure reinforced public perceptions of Nash as a surrealist artist and showed his work in an International context”. [9].

But as Frances Spalding observes in her book ‘ British art since 1900’ British surrealism collapsed in the end because unlike the European surrealists they refused to give any sort of political commitment. Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth had the same approach.

” What caused the movement to collapse in England, however was not war but Breton’s attempt to extract greater political allegiance (which was never forthcoming but of a refusal to break with British conservative attitudes) from the British contingent. during the winter of 1938-9 the London Bulletin carried the Manifesto towards an Independent Revolutionary art. It was written by Breton in collaboration with Leon Trotsky( The great Bolshevik Leader pursued by Stalinist agents in the 1930’s and eventually killed in 1940). “.[10]

It was during this period that Nash started using collage as well as Oil, particularly interesting was his use of photo collages like Wood on the Hills , Objects in the Fields.

Nash continued to paint unseen landscapes developing a fertile imagination with paintings like Equivalents of the Megaliths . During this period he like all surrealists developed images connected to dreams, Landscape at large ,Mansions of the road , Crisis of the Monoliths and Circle of the Monoliths were other dream images Nash conjured up using very precise geometric measurements.

Voyages of the Moon 1934-7 by Paul Nash 1889-1946

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The Last Voyage of Captain Cook 1936-67 by Sir Roland Penrose 1900-1984

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During the 2nd World war Nash became an official war artist. He became very interested in aerial objects as I have shown in my images. Some of Nash ‘s dreamlike surrealist paintings remind me of  Georges Chirrico’s metaphysical work. Very similar images are portrayed by Nash.

” Nash was inspired by the imagery of crashed German Bombers in the landscape and at the Cowley dump near Oxford. In Totes Meer  he drew on surreal ideas of metamorphosis to transform the twisted mass of crashed planes into the waves of a metal sea”. [11].

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Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940-1 by Paul Nash 1889-1946

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This concludes my review of the Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Britain. A very important Modernist who embraced a surrealist tradition with some outstanding Landscape paintings easily as good as a Turner or a Constable. I recommend that if you are in London you attend the exhibition which I thoroughly enjoyed.

FOOTNOTES

  1. TATE BOOKLET
  2. DITTO
  3. DITTO
  4. DITTO
  5. BRITISH ART SINCE 1900 FRANCES SPALDING. ART AND POLITICS IN THE 1930’s.PG.107
  6. DITTO.PG.107
  7. TATE BOOKLET
  8. DITTO
  9. DITTO
  10. BRITISH ART SINCE 1900 FRANCES SPALDING. ART AND POLITICS IN THE 1930’s.PG 118-119
  11. TATE BOOKLET

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