Paul Nash (1889 – 1946) was one of the most extraordinary 20th century British painters, known for his oil and watercolour war depictions during both World Wars, and also for his illustration and designs for works of literature. He began his artistic career focusing on stark landscapes and trench life during World War I, and started exploring surrealism and abstract art in the 1930s, which later affected his war depictions for the Second World War. During WWII, Nash moved from his landscape focus to one of the air war, during which he produced one of his most famous works, Totes Meer. In the years before his death, Paul Nash painted more works with themes of flowers and seasons, describing this as his “last phase.”
Paul Nash received his education first at St. Paul’s School and then the Slade School of Fine Art in London, with the intention of becoming a painter-poet. Although he spent a few years working on illustrations for books and poetry, he was unsuccessful and progressed onto drawing landscapes. While first establishing his landscape style in the early 1910s, Nash developed a significant value for creating a family and autobiographical element in his landscape works. After a few years of focusing predominantly on natural landscape, he enlisted to serve in World War I in 1914; however, due to injury, he was unable to continue service in May 1917 and was appointed an official war artist that same year. During this time, he created many panoramic landscape paintings of war, depicting waste, torn trees, and sometimes human figures making their way across the debris. He aimed for descriptive realism in his war depictions, being cautious of sentimentality and merely illustrating soldiers performing their jobs. Nash’s exhibition of war pictures in 1918 Void of War contained many of his popular war paintings, including Void and The Menin Road, both of which depicted extensive wreckage and broken machines of the war. We are Making a New World is one of Nash’s most widely admired war paintings, conveying a more positive outlook on the aftermath of the war, and he received positive critical responses to his war pieces overall.
|Summer Garden, 1914|
|We are Making a New World, 1918|
In the years after World War I, Paul Nash lived in Kent, England, where he focused on his technical development while attempting to move past his war experience and trauma. After some time, he began shifting his artistic style to more Surrealism and abstraction, being heavily influenced by Giorgio de Chirico and Pablo Picasso. It was then that he created more surreal paintings, including Landscape at Iden and Empty Room, and moved from his style of landscape to more symbolic and abstract representations of human figures and objects. He continued with this style while also collaborating with many playwrights and novelists of the time, including Sir Thomas Browne and his work Urn Burial. In this work, both Nash and Browne explore concepts of life, mortality, and other curiosities of nature, themes which were not touched on in his earlier period of artwork. In 1933 Nash played a large role in founding Unit One, a contemporary group of artists with the intention of bringing together surrealist and abstract ideas. It was in the mid-1930s that he also created a series of paintings depicting objects on landscapes, again reflecting his experimentation between abstraction and realism.
|Landscape at Iden, 1929|
|Empty Room, 1935|
|Urne Buriall and The Garden of Cyrus: The Quincunx Naturally Considered, 1932|
Years later, after Nash continued to develop his skills in symbolic and realistic representation, he was appointed an official war artist for World War II. During this world war, much of the focus was on aircraft and flight combat, as opposed to the trench-focused World War I. Thus, many of Nash’s works during his time as a WWII war artist portray the planes and bombs used in the war, his most famous being Totes Meer, a piece depicting German aircraft wreckage as waves of a sea along a coast, a cloudy night sky in the background. His other works during WWII include more abstract ones such as Battle of Germany and surreal ones such as Follow the Fuhrer over the Snows.
|Totes Meer, 1940-1941|
|Battle of Germany, 1944|
|Follow the Fuhrer over the Snows, 1942|
Following his dutiful service as a war artist, Nash spent the remaining years of his life returning to painting natural landscapes, focusing on foliage in gardens. Again, his work resonated a more autobiographical and personal theme like in his earlier years, as opposed to the social war depictions during WWI and WWII. Typical paintings from this period of his life include Sunflower and Sun and Landscape of the Summer Solstice. Many regard the artworks in Nash’s later years of his life as returning to the roots of his original inspiration, and praise his ability to draw out a richness in colour in contrast to many of his past war depictions. Paul Nash passed away in 1946 of respiratory illness, with many exhibitions held in the years afterward in his honour.
|Sunflower and Sun, 1942|
|Landscape of the Summer Solstice, 1943|
Bertram, Anthony. Paul Nash: The Portrait of an Artist. London: Faber and Faber, 1955. Print.
Causey, Andrew. Paul Nash: Landscape and the Life of Objects. Farnham: Lund Hemphries, 2013. Print.
Duffy, Michael. "Who's Who - Paul Nash." First World War. N.p., 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/nash.htm>.
Hassell, Geoff. "Unit One." Artist Biographies. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.artbiogs.co.uk/2/societies/unit-one>.
“Paul Nash 1889 - 1946." Tate. Tate, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. < http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/paul-nash-1690>.
“Paul Nash". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016
“The Ypres Salient at Night." Imperial War Museums. Imperial War Museums, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20069>.