PAUL NASH: MODERN ARTIST, ANCIENT LANDSCAPE
Paul Nash (1889-1946) is one of the most important artists of the first half of the twentieth century and the most evocative landscape painter of his generation. He 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.
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 he 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 revitalisation of English art in the inter-war period.
Nash, however, found his personal inspiration in the English landscape and he saw himself in the tradition of English mystical painters William Blake and Samuel Palmer. He 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.
This exhibition examines Nash's approach to landscape painting throughout his career.
It explores the quality of 'Englishness' in his work and attempt to combine his commitment to modernism with a visionary approach to nature and landscape.
Catalogue ISBN 1 854337 468 0
To abstract means to remove, and in the art sense it means that artist has removed or withheld references to an object, landscape or figure to produce a simplified or schematic work. This method of creating art has led to many critical theories; some theorists considered this the purest form of art: art for art’s sake. Unconcerned as it is with materiality, abstraction is often considered as representing the spiritual.
Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.
Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.