The past couple of weeks has seen a growing interest in Paul Nash’s work on my part. I was delighted to discover today that Tate Britain will be holding an extensive retrospective of his work late next year.
I’ve just finished a really good exploration of both Nash brothers by Paul Gough: Brothers in Arms John and Paul Nash and the aftermath of the Great War. My interest in Nash stems from his World War I works, but I have been looking at this work from World War II:
Nash was asthmatic and suffered with his health following WWI, but this did not stop him from wishing to play his part in the second conflict of his lifetime and he was appointed to the Air Ministry.
Living in Oxford, Nash spent a lot of time exploring the surrounding areas and he came across a military dump of wrecked enemy aircraft. In the Gough book, he quoted at length what Nash said about this sight, and Nash’s words are just as moving as the painting itself:
“The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea. You might feel – under certain influences – a moonlight night for instance – this is a vast tide moving across the fields, the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain. And then, no: nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead. It is metal piled up, wreckage. It is hundreds and hundreds of flying creatures which invaded these shores. By moonlight, this waning moon, one could swear they began to move and twist and turn as they did in the air. A sort of rigor mortis? No, they are quite dead and still. The only moving creature is the white owl flying low over the bodies of the other predatory creatures, raking the shadows for rats and voles.”The paleness of this painting is haunting and quite beautiful, despite the subject matter.
This Tate Shot gives more detail on a stunning piece of work.