Tate Britain presents Paul Nash, the largest exhibition of the artist’s work for over 25 years. Paul Nash is considered one of the important British artists of the 20th century and is known mostly for his work as a war artist in the First and Second World Wars. Whilst the exhibition will feature some of his war work, it will also explore Nash’s work which is inspired by the British landscape and his connections with modern art and surrealism.
The exhibition begins with a number of watercolours that illustrate Nash’s interest in trees and the landscape. The early mystical landscapes are replaced by the shattered landscapes of the battlefields in First World War in Room Two. Nash became an Official War Artist in 1917 and provided a new and startling vision of war that suggested that war was not just human carnage but also a violation of nature. Some of Nash’s most iconic images of the First World War are featured in the exhibition including We Are Making a New World 1918, The Menin Road 1918, Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood 1917 and After the Battle 1918.
After Nash’s return from the war, he returned to his landscape paintings but began to feature geometric shapes in the natural world, places on the South East began to appeal to his more abstract work especially the Kent coast as featured in The Shore 1923.
If Nash was reinterpreting the landscape in a recognisable but more abstract way in the 1920s, Nash in the 1930s began to move into more mystical and surrealist methods to draw the parallels between modern art and the ancient past. Paintings such as Event on the Downs 1934 and Equivalents for the Megaliths 1935 suggests we have much to learn from ancient wisdom.
The 1930s was also a time when Nash collaborated with Eileen Agar and contributed to major exhibitions of the 1930s, such as the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936 and the Unit One exhibition which toured across the UK in 1934-5. Unit One was a British Modernist group of painters, sculptors and architects which included Nash, John Armstrong, Barbara Hepworth, Tristram Hillier, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Edward Wadsworth. The exhibition features work from the group including Barbara Hepworth’s Mother and Child and Henry Moore’s Composition.
The Second World War saw Nash depicting the war, not from the battlefields but the horror of the Blitz. Destroyed German aircraft fill many of Nash’s paintings linking their own destruction with the destruction they were inflicting on the civilian population.
Towards the end of the war, Nash returned to his more mystical and surreal work especially in relation to the moon and eclipses as illustrated by November Moon and Landscape of the Moon’s Last Phase.
This is an intriguing exhibition that allows visitors to explore Nash’s work far beyond the usual war pictures. One of the most important aspects of the exhibition is it provides evidence that the war pictures where actually part of a wider vision of portraying the landscape in new and exciting ways. Nash uses a variety of styles to create a narrative about the British landscape that pays homage to its ancient past. This almost mystical aspect of Nash’s work and his connections with the Surrealists and Modernists are not widely known and exhibition successfully provides a more rounded account of his work.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Britain website here
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