Nash was a British landscape painter and wood engraver. Nash is one of
the most important artists of the first half of the twentieth century
and the most evocative landscape painter of his generation. Paul Nash is
best known for his work as an official war artist, producing some of the
most memorable images of both the First and Second World Wars. Paul Nash
was born in London on May 11, 1889, the son of a lawyer. Nash was
educated at St. Paul's School and then spent a year at the Slade School
of art. There Paul Nash became influenced by the art and poetry of
William Blake and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Paul Nash's earliest work display an interest in watercolors featuring moody, mystical landscape. He attained a measure of success in that genre and presented one-man shows in 1912 and 1913. Nash enlisted in the army at the start of World War I. Paul Nash was part of a group known as the Artists' Rifles. By 1917 he was fighting on the Western Front and had attained the rank of second lieutenant. Paul Nash was injured in battle and sent home to recover. During this period he looked over a number of sketches he had made in haste on and near battlefields. Paul Nash created a number of full-scale drawings based on these sketches. His efforts garnered the interest of the art world and were exhibited in late 1917. That show attracted the attention of the War Propaganda Bureau, and Nash was offered a position as wartime artist. Nash's work during the war included "The Menin Road", "We Are Making a New World", "The Ypres Salient at Night", "The Mule Track", "A Howitzer Firing", "Ruined Country" and "Spring in the Trenches". They are some of the most powerful and enduring images of the Great War painted by an English artist.
Paul Nash used his opportunity as a war artist to bring home the full horrors of the conflict. As he wrote to his wife from the Front in November of 1917: "I am no longer an artist. I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls." Paul Nash was also a pioneer of modernism in Britain, promoting the avant-garde European styles of abstraction and Surrealism in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1933 Paul Nash co-founded the influential modern art movement "Unit One" with fellow artists Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and the critic Herbert Read. It was a short-lived but important move towards the revitalization of English art in the inter-war period.
Between 1934 and 1936 Paul Nash lived near Swanage, Dorset and produced a considerable number of paintings and photographs during this period. At the invitation of John Betjeman, he compiled the Shell Guide to Dorset, which was then published in 1935. When Europe turned to war once again in the late 1930s, the British government called upon Paul Nash again. He produced a number of war-themed works, but by this time his heart was more interested in the landscape of his homeland.
One of the most famous paintings Paul Nash produced was the Battle of Britain during World War II (shown above). The painting is an attempt to give the sense of an aerial battle in operation over a wide area and thus summarizes England's great aerial victory over Germany. The scene includes certain elements constant during the Battle of Britain - the river winding from the town and across parched country, down to the sea; beyond, the shores of the Continent, above, the mounting cumulus concentrating at sunset after a hot brilliant day; across the spaces of sky, trails of airplanes, smoke tracks of dead or damaged machines falling, floating clouds, parachutes, balloons. Against the approaching twilight new formations of Luftwaffe, threatening. Paul Nash was particularly drawn to landscapes with a sense of ancient history: grassy burial mounds, Iron Age hill forts and the standing stones at Avebury and Stonehenge. For him these sites had a talismanic quality which he called genius loci, or 'the spirit of a place', and he painted them repeatedly.
Paul Nash included rounded shapes in many of his paintings, as a ball, or as a boulder on the ground, or as the moon. The painting Landscape from a Dream marks (shown here) shows the culmination of Paul Nash’s personal response to Surrealism, of which he had been aware since the late 1920s. As the title suggests, it echoes the Surrealists’ fascination with Freud’s theories of the power of dreams to reveal the unconscious. Nash explained that various elements were symbolic: the self-regarding hawk belongs to the material world, while the spheres reflected in the mirror refer to the soul. Typically, Nash set this scene on the coast of Dorset, unearthing the uncanny within the English landscape.
As Nash's style became more surrealist he painted such paintings as Voyages of the Moon. he painting was begun in 1934 and completed in 1937. This painting is based on a drawing Nash made in Toulon of electric globe ceiling lamps repeatedly reflected in the mirrored walls of a restaurant. Such circular motifs are commonly found in the work of many British artists in this period, for example, in Nicholson's abstract paintings and Moore's and Hepworth's sculptures.
In 1944 Paul Nash painted "Flight of the Magnolias". Not long after this work was made, Nash wrote an essay entitled Aerial Flowers. In it he discussed his long fascination with flight, from the imagined flight of childhood dreams to actual experience in an airplane He also described how his view of the sky changed with the threat of aerial bombing during the war. Rose of Death, his first picture of the war, was of a parachute. Perhaps this image of clouds metamorphosing into a white magnolia flower relates to the expected end of the war. As a symbol of a spiritual plane it recalls the imagery of Blake. Paul Nash died on July 11, 1946, at Boscombe, Hampshire and was buried on July 17 in Langley church, Buckinghamshire.