phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Paul Nash at Tate Britain
Image Credit: Equivalents for the Megaliths by Paul Nash, 1935, ©Tate
Paul Nash at Tate Britain
Image Credit: Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood by Paul Nash, 1917-1918, Imperial War Museum, London ©Tate

Paul Nash at Tate Britain

1 November 2016 Nicky Charlish

War presents paradoxes. It lowers men to the level of rats and raises them to the heights of heroism. It harnesses science for death and healing. It leads to outpourings of destruction and creation. The last of these contradictions is reflected in the work of artist Paul Nash, for it was the First World War which led to the launch of his career, which was one of artistic fruitfulness.

Nash’s work, although both wide-ranging and prolific, has remained surprisingly neglected.  But, with this forthcoming exhibition, that may be about to change.  Inga Fraser, Assistant Curator at Tate Britain, says: ‘This exhibition will be the first full retrospective of Nash’s work for over 40 years, giving visitors the opportunity to view Nash’s characteristic landscapes and paintings produced as a war artist, but also his lesser-known work as a   modernist and Surrealist, revealing the true visionary nature of Nash’s lifelong project as an artist.’ 
 
Who was Nash? Born in 1889, he entered the Slade School of Art at age twenty-one. From the outbreak of the First World War until 1917, he served in the Artists’ Rifles. In that year, arguably, came the turning point of his career – an exhibition of his pictures of the Ypres Salient in Belgium led to his appointment as an official war artist. This role was a double-edged sword. He could depict the battlefields of the Western Front, but in a limited way. He couldn’t show their full horrors: that would be left to a later generation of artists, such as Otto Dix with his bitter depictions of war-wounded Germans, backed-up by the work of writers such as Robert Graves and Erich Maria Remarque. But Nash did as much as his official position would allow. No one can see such pictures as his ‘We Are Making a New World’ (1918), with its shell holes and blasted trees, and be unaware of the human suffering that would have taken place within that landscape. Its title, too, can be seen as ironic comment on the stated war aims of the Allies. His irony was prescient: the conflict would not make the world safe for democracy; homes fit for heroes would not materialise until after the Second World War. 


Image Credit: Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood by Paul Nash, 1917-1918, Imperial War Museum, London ©Tate
 
After the war, Nash moved to Dymchurch in Kent. He had a great love of nature, and was horrified by the damage done to it which he had witnessed on the Western Front.  Now he had a chance to explore and celebrate the natural world with land and seascapes as well as floral still-lifes, with the nearby Romney Marshes providing the setting for part of his work. But he didn’t follow in the footsteps of previous portrayers of the countryside such as Constable. He experimented with Surrealism – giving his work a disturbingly dreamy yet sharp feel – and with wood engraving, as well as using found objects such as driftwood. Nash also started teaching at Oxford and, later, the Royal College of Art, as well as writing as an art critic for BBC magazine The Listener. At the request of the poet John Betjeman, Nash wrote the Shell Guide to Dorset, which was published in 1935.


Image Credit: Equivalents for the Megaliths by Paul Nash, 1935, ©Tate

In 1939, the outbreak of the Second World War led to Nash’s appointment as a full-time salaried war artist with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Air Ministry.  In 1940, The Battle of Britain – an air campaign fought over southern England to forestall Hitler’s invasion plans after the fall of France – had been decisively won by the RAF. From this would come two of Nash’s outstanding wartime works, ‘The Battle of Britain’ (1941), and ‘Totes Meer (Dead Sea)’ from the same year. The former shows an air battle over what seems to be the Thames Estuary widening out into the English Channel beyond, with anti-aircraft fire explosions and vapour trails forming curvy, flower-like patterns. The latter shows the practical result of the conflict – a heap of destroyed German aircraft.  In September 1944, a few months short of final victory over Nazi Germany, Nash’s appointment ended and he was able to resume his nature works. 
 
But this return to Nash’s former beloved subject matter was short lived. His health had never been good. Throughout his life he had been plagued by asthma, and it started to take its final toll on him.  Before the Second World War he had lived in Dorset and, after revisiting parts of that county, he died in July 1946.
 
Why didn’t Nash’s work get more recognition?  Was it overshadowed by the personal and political impact –– upon millions of people – of the conflicts which he painted, with him being seen as just another war artist?  In an age before being a multi-media artist was a mainstream practice, did he spread himself too widely and unconventionally by working in different materials and following a variety of roles?  Was he not metropolitan – that is, cliquey – enough?  Was his pastoral work too decoratively floral for some, or was his war art too disturbing, like a bayonet thrust, for others?  This exhibition may prompt reflections on these possibilities, as well as stimulating reconsideration about Nash and the recognition which is his due.  It may also make us think about the wider paradoxes of how creativity can spring from destruction in art and life.
 
The Paul Nash exhibition will run from 26th October 2016 till 5th March 2017 at Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG. For further information, including details of purchasing tickets, visit Tate Britain online (http://www.tate.org.uk)

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Win Private View Tickets!

MADE LONDON - Win Private View Tickets!

This October, meet designers and craftspeople and buy beautiful handmade objects at Made Marylebone.

Fahrelnissa Zeid at Tate Modern

Fahrelnissa Zeid at Tate Modern

Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-1991), or الأميرة فخر النساء زيد‎‎ in Arabic, was a Turkish-born princess, teacher, traveller and painter who constantly reinvented her art. As an ambassador’s wife…

Win a 3 Course Meal with Wine at Drake and Morgan

KXCQ - Win a 3 Course Meal with Wine at Drake and Morgan

We're giving away an indulgent meal for two people to enjoy in King's Cross.

This Week September 11-17

This Week September 11-17

A number of exhibitions launch this week as the autumn season kicks into gear. Explore the vastness of space through award-winning photography at the Royal…

Bearpit Karaoke

Bearpit Karaoke

An international impromptu karaoke sensation

This Week September 18-24

This Week September 18-24

Two huge exhibitions dominate this week’s cultural calendar, as the Barbican Centre’s highly anticipated Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition opens two days before the Royal Academy’s enormous Jasper…

The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition

The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition

Enter one of the world's biggest single-poem competitions for unpublished poems

Tate Britain: Rachel Whiteread

Tate Britain: Rachel Whiteread

The Tate Britain’s latest exhibition is a momentous retrospective, spanning almost 30 years, of British Turner Prize-winning artist Rachel Whiteread. The exhibition brings together a variety…

An interview with designer Rodney Kinsman

An interview with designer Rodney Kinsman

Rodney Kinsman is a world-renowned designer, whose career spans home-ware and mass industrial production. Having spent the early part of his career working closely with…

Nature Morte at Guildhall Art Gallery

Nature Morte at Guildhall Art Gallery

Guildhall Art Gallery presents an exhibition that confronts what it means to be human.

Most popular

Win a 3 Course Meal with Wine at Drake and Morgan

KXCQ - Win a 3 Course Meal with Wine at Drake and Morgan

We're giving away an indulgent meal for two people to enjoy in King's Cross.
Win 4 Tickets to Climb an Iconic London Landmark

Up at The O2 - Win 4 Tickets to Climb an Iconic London Landmark

Prepare yourself for an unforgettable 90 minute experience on the roof of The O2!
Win One of Five Pairs of Tickets to Symphonic Queen Concert!

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Win One of Five Pairs of Tickets to Symphonic Queen Concert!

Experience a night of Queen’s greatest hits, performed by the amplified Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Royal Albert Hall.
Win Tickets to an Exclusive Spanish Art Event!

Wallace Collection - Win Tickets to an Exclusive Spanish Art Event!

Join us for an after-hours tour and drinks reception at an exhibition of stunning Spanish artwork.
Win two stand-up comedy tickets, food and drinks!

Pizza Express Live - Win two stand-up comedy tickets, food and drinks!

Win two tickets, plus food and drink, to Andrew Ryan, Phil Jerrod and Ivo Graham at Pizza Express Live
Win a Meal for Two People

Off the Wall & onto the Plate - Win a Meal for Two People

Your chance to win a seven-course meal of deliciously decorative dishes!
Win Private View Tickets!

MADE LONDON - Win Private View Tickets!

This October, meet designers and craftspeople and buy beautiful handmade objects at MADE LONDON.
Win Tickets to an Opening Night Concert

London Piano Festival - Win Tickets to an Opening Night Concert

Your chance to win tickets to a night of beautiful piano music, including Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Schumann, Rachmaninov, Liszt.
Rhythm Passport Tickets Giveaway

Rhythm Passport Tickets Giveaway

Our lovely friends at Rhythm Passport are giving away lots of free gig tickets!

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!