Paul Nash (11 May 1889 – 11 July 1946) was a British surrealist painter and war artist, as well as a photographer, writer and designer of applied art. Nash was among the most important landscape artists of the first half of the twentieth century. He played a key role in the development of Modernism in English art.
Born in London, Nash grew up in Buckinghamshire where he developed a love of the landscape. He entered the Slade School of Art but was poor at figure drawing and concentrated on landscape painting. Nash found much inspiration in landscapes with elements of ancient history, such as burial mounds, Iron Age hill forts such as Wittenham Clumps and the standing stones at Avebury in Wiltshire. The artworks he produced during World War I are among the most iconic images of the conflict. After the war Nash continued to focus on landscape painting, originally in a formalized, decorative style but, throughout the 1930s, in an increasingly abstract and surreal manner. In his paintings he often placed everyday objects into a landscape to give them a new identity and symbolism.
During World War II, although sick with the asthmatic condition that would kill him, he produced two series of anthropomorphic depictions of aircraft, before producing a number of landscapes rich in symbolism with an intense mystical quality. These have perhaps become among the best known works from the period. Nash was also a fine book illustrator, and also designed stage scenery, fabrics and posters.
He was the older brother of the artist John Nash.
Nash was the son of a successful barrister, William Harry Nash, and his wife Caroline Maude, the daughter of a Captain in the Royal Navy. He was born in Kensington and grew up in Earl's Court in West London, but in 1902 the family moved to Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire. It was hoped the move to the countryside would help Caroline Nash, who was increasingly showing symptoms of mental illness. The growing cost of Caroline Nash's treatment led to the house at Iver Heath being rented out while Paul and his father lived together in lodgings and his younger sister and brother went to boarding schools. On Valentine's Day 1910, aged forty-nine, Caroline Nash died in a mental institution. Paul Nash was originally intended for a career in the navy, following the path of his maternal grandfather, but despite additional training at a specialist school in Greenwich, he failed the Naval Entrance Examination and returned to finish his schooling at St Paul's School. Encouraged by a fellow student at St Paul's, Eric Kennington, Nash considered the possibility of a career as an artist. After studying for a year at the South-Western Polytechnic in Chelsea, he then enrolled at the London County Council School of Photo-engraving and Lithography, in Bolt Court off Fleet Street, in the autumn of 1908. Nash spent two years studying at Bolt Court, where he began to write poetry and plays and where his work was spotted and praised by Selwyn Image. He was advised by his friend, the poet Gordon Bottomley, and by 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'.
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