One of the greatest landscape artists of the 20th century, Paul Nash, has an interesting story behind his pioneering career, and his love for landscapes was inspired by the wilds of North Norfolk (and there’s no better inspiration than our beautiful county, we think!)
Image: Paul Nash, The Rye Marshes, 1932, oil on canvas Ferens Art Gallery: Hull Museums.
Growing up just before WW1, Paul attended the Slade School of Art at University College in London and found that, although he didn’t excel at drawing and painting figures, his landscape work was highly praised, leading him to focus more on his landscape pieces.
One of his friends from the Slade School moved to Mundesley, on the North Norfolk coast, and whilst visiting him (in 1912) Nash was rather taken by the landscape there, saying “we walked in a landscape entirely new to my eyes, flat and chequered, with all the trees slanting one way, their branches welded together in tortuous forms by the relentless winds”. After this visit he went on to create the haunting piece The Cliff to the North.
Image: Paul Nash - Totes Meer (Dead Sea), oil paint on canvas
Nash was elected to The London Group (a society which helped with exhibiting artists, and one of the oldest artist-led organisations in the world) in 1914. However, when war broke out later that year, Paul was enlisted as an army officer in the Artists’ Rifles; fortunately his duties meant he still had plenty of time to practise. After completing Officer training he was sent to the Western Front where he was lucky enough to not experience any major incidents – until May 1917 when he fell into a trench and broke a rib. He was sent back to England to recover, right before most of his regiment was wiped out at the Battle of Passchendaele.
Returning to the trenches as a war artist, Nash was filled with a sense of guilt at having survived when most of his regiment did not, as well as a powerful desire to portray the losses and destruction of war. He produced some incredible paintings showing France’s often barren and bleak landscape, before returning to England again where he produced some of what many regard as his finest work: windswept landscapes of the English coast were featured and, when WW2 broke out, he was commissioned to paint the battle raging in the skies above (he was too ill to fight abroad). These Battle of Britain paintings – which included the debris and shattered remains of German planes - were obviously very different to his work depicting the trenches, but both subjects are just as amazing in different ways, and all contain some of the powerful emotion that Nash felt from his experiences in war.
Image: the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, where the Paul Nash exhibition will be held
Paul Nash’s career takes us from the trenches of WW1 to the skies of Britain; from scenes of the devastated Western Front through to serene scenes of windswept beauty. You’d hardly believe they were works by the same artist - this really is something to see with your own eyes, and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts provides the perfect opportunity to do so, during the Paul Nash exhibition which begins on 8 April.
The exhibition will feature not only some of Nash’s most iconic work but also pieces by his contemporaries, exploring his important place in the development of British art and involvement in key artistic movements including surrealism and abstractism. Of course, the fact that it is coming right here to Norwich is very fitting, as Norfolk’s amazing sceneries inspired his love for landscape and nature, and his amazing piece The Cliff to the North (which you can see as part of the exhibition)was, as previously mentioned, inspired by Mundesley in North Norfolk.
His links to East Anglia keep coming, with his brother living in the Stour Valley, in Suffolk, and Nash having illustrated various editions of Urne Buriall by Sir Thomas Browne, which you’ll be able to see in the exhibition. There’ll also be on display some of the Fine Press books from the Sainsbury Centre collections, which include illustrations and cover designs by Nash. Plus, of course, view many works by Nash and his contemporaries in this touring retrospective from the Tate. In fact, it is the Tate’s first Paul Nash retrospective for over 40 years – so make sure you catch it whilst it’s right here in Norwich, especially at such a fantastic venue as The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
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