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Paul Nash
Totes Meer (Dead Sea), between 1940 - 1941, Tate Gallery
Totes Meer (Dead Sea), between 1940 - 1941, Tate Gallery
Born (1889-05-11)11 May 1889
London, U.K.
Died 11 July 1946(1946-07-11) (aged 57)
Boscombe, Dorset, U.K.
Nationality British
Political movement Surrealism

Paul Nash (11 May 1889 – 11 July 1946) was a British surrealist painter and war artist, as well as a book-illustrator, writer and designer of applied art. He was the older brother of the artist John Nash. His patterns still inspire contemporary design, and are used in a variety of ways, including on packaging.[1]

Early lifeEdit

The son of a successful lawyer and a mentally unstable mother who died in a mental asylum in 1910,[2] Nash was born in London on 11 May 1889. He was educated at St Paul's School, and originally intended for a career in the navy, like his maternal grandfather. However, he failed his exams and decided to take up art as a career. Studying first at the Chelsea Polytechnic, he then went to the London County Council School of Photo-engraving and Lithography, where his work was spotted and praised by Selwyn Image. He was advised by his friend, the poet Gordon Bottomley, and the artist William Rothenstein, that he should attend the Slade School of Art at University College, London. He enrolled in October 1910, though he later recorded that on his first meeting with the Professor of Drawing, Henry Tonks, 'It was evident he considered that neither the Slade, nor I, were likely to derive much benefit'.[3]

The Slade was then opening its doors to a remarkable crop of young talents – what Tonks later described as the school's second and last 'Crisis of Brilliance' (the first included Augustus John and Percy Wyndham Lewis). Nash's fellow students included Ben Nicholson, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, William Roberts, Dora Carrington, Christopher R. W. Nevinson and Edward Wadsworth. Nash struggled with figure drawing, and spent only a year at the school. Influenced by the poetry of William Blake and the paintings of Samuel Palmer and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Nash had shows in 1912 and 1913 (sometimes alone, sometimes with his brother John), largely devoted to drawings and watercolours of brooding landscapes. By summer 1914 he was enjoying some success.

War artistEdit

File:Nash, The Ypres Salient at Night.jpg
Nash, A Howitzer Firing

A Howitzer Firing, between 1914 - 1918, Imperial War Museum.[5]

At the outbreak of World War I, Nash reluctantly enlisted in the Artists' Rifles and was sent to the Western Front in February 1917 as a second lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment. A few days before the Ypres offensive he fell into a trench, broke a rib and was invalided home. While recuperating in London, Nash worked from his front-line sketches to produce a series of drawings of the war. The work, which shows the influence of the literary magazine BLAST and the Vorticist movement of which it was a manifesto, was well received when exhibited later that year at the Goupil Gallery.

As a result of the exhibition, Nevinson advised Nash to approach Charles Masterman, head of the government's War Propaganda Bureau (WPB). Nash was recruited as an official war artist, and in November 1917 returned to the Western Front where his drawings resulted in his first oil paintings. Nash's war work 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 among the most powerful and enduring images of the Great War painted by an English artist.[6]

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 on 16 November 1917:

"I am no longer an artist interested and curious, 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."[7]

Inter-war yearsEdit

In the early 1920s, Nash, along with several other artists became prominent in the Society of Wood Engravers and in 1920 was involved in its first exhibition.[8] He became close friends with Eric Fitch Daglish whom he educated in the art of wood engraving and as a result Daglish became a successful engraver.[8] Nash was one of the contributors of illustrations to T. E. Lawrence's Subscriber's Edition of the latter's book Seven pillars of wisdom, published in 1926.

Nash was 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, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Edward Wadsworth and the critic Herbert Read. It was a short-lived but important move towards the revitalisation of British art in the inter-war period.

Nash found much inspiration in the British landscape, particularly landscapes with a sense of ancient history, such as burial mounds, Iron Age hill forts such as Wittenham Clumps and the standing stones at Avebury in Wiltshire. When in 1932 he was invited to illustrate a book of his own choice, Nash choose Sir Thomas Browne's Urn Burial and The Garden of Cyrus providing the publisher with a set of 32 illustrations to accompany Browne's Discourses. Nash was asked by John Betjeman to write a book in the pre-war Shell Guide series. Nash accepted and compiled a guide to Dorset which features some peculiarities of landscape and architecture that are often overlooked. The guide was published in 1935.[9]

War yearsEdit

During World War II Nash was employed as an official war artist, this time by the Ministry of Information and the Air Ministry, and paintings he produced during this period include the Battle of Britain, with its memorable depiction of contrails[10] and Totes Meer (Dead Sea).

In his final years, he returned to the influence of Blake that had so affected his early art, for example in the series of gigantic sunflowers including Sunflower and Sun (1942), Solstice of the Sunflower (1945) and Eclipse of the Sunflower (1945) based on Blake's poem "Ah! Sun-flower".[11][12]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1914 Nash married Margaret Odeh, an Oxford-educated campaigner for Women's Suffrage. They had no children.

Between 1934 and 1936 he lived near Swanage in Dorset. He produced a considerable number of paintings and photographs during this period.

Nash died of heart failure on 11 July 1946, at Boscombe in Hampshire (now Dorset) and was buried on 17 July, in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Langley in Buckinghamshire (now Berkshire).


See alsoEdit


  1. Example on England Preserves website.
  2. Haycock, A Crisis of Brilliance (2009), chapter 5
  3. Haycock, (2009), p. 72
  4. Imperial War Museum. "The Ypres Salient at Night". Imperial War Museum Collections Search. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  5. Imperial War Museum. "A Howitzer Firing". Imperial War Museum Collections Search. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  6. Paul Gough (2010) ‘A Terrible Beauty’: British Artists in the First World War. pp.127-164.
  7. Nash, Outline (1949), p.211
  8. 8.0 8.1 Horne, Alan. The Dictionary of British Book Illustrators: 162-163.
  9. "Mixed Gallery of Shell Art Collection Images". Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  10. Battle of Britain by Paul Nash at the Imperial War Museum, London, UK
  11. Jason Whittaker, "Surreal sunflowers – Paul Nash and William Blake".
  12. Seddon, Paul Nash, (1948), p.74

External linksEdit


  • Causey, Andrew Paul Nash (1980. Oxford U.P.) ISBN 978-1-85437-436-3.
  • Colvin, Claire, Paul Nash book designs : a Minories touring exhibition (1982. The Minories, [Colchester])
  • Eates, Margot, Paul Nash : the master of the image, 1889 - 1946 (1973. John Murray, London)
  • Gough, Paul J., ‘A Terrible Beauty’: British Artists in the First World War (2010. Sansom and Company, Bristol) ISBN 1-906593-00-0.
  • Haycock, David Boyd, Paul Nash (2002. Tate Publishing, London) ISBN 1-85437-436-2.
  • Haycock, David Boyd, A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War (2009. Old Street Publishing, London) ISBN 978-1-905847-84-6.
  • Jenkins, David Fraser (ed.), Paul Nash: The Elements (2010. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London)
  • Nash, Paul, Outline : an autobiography and other writings (1949. Faber and Faber, London)
  • Postan, Alexander, The complete graphic work of Paul Nash (1973. Secker and Warburg, London)
  • Russell, James, Paul Nash in Pictures: Landscape and Dream (2011. Mainstone Press, Norwich) ISBN 978-0955277771.
  • Seddon, Richard, "Paul Nash" Studio 135 (600), March 1948, p. 74 [1]

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