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The War Artists - Paul Nash


Paul Nash was an English painter, most famous for work created during World War I. Born in London to a prosperous family; Nash expressed an early interest in art. His parents agreed to send him for training at the Slade School of Art. There he became influenced by the art and poetry of William Blake and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His earliest work display an interest in watercolors featuring moody, mystical landscape. He attained a measure of success in that genre and presented one-man shows in 1912 and 1913.

Nash enlisted in the army at the start of World War I. He was part of a group known as the Artists' Rifles. By 1917 he was fighting on the Western Front and had attained the rank of second lieutenant. He was injured in battle and sent home to recover.

During this period he looked over a number of sketches he had made in haste on and near battlefields. He created a number of full-scale drawings based on these sketches. His efforts garnered the interest of the art world and were exhibited in late 1917.

That show attracted the attention of the War Propaganda Bureau, and Nash was offered a position as wartime artist. Once he recovered from his injuries, he was sent back to the front, this time with the tools of an artist, rather than a soldier. At the end of the war he returned with many sketches of what he had seen, and translated them into oil paintings on canvas.

Some of his most important war time works include The Menin Road, We Are Making a New World, Ruined Country, and Spring in the Trenches. His images are considered some of the most powerful paintings created during the late and post-war years. While still at the front, he wrote to his wife:

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.


(Above: Nash photographed in 1940)

Like many post-war artists, after his battle experiences Nash developed an interest in the abstract and surreal. He formed a modern art organization named Unit One. It was short-lived, but influential.

When Europe turned to war once again in the late 1930's, Nash was commissioned as a war artist once more. He was intensely interested in aircraft and flying but his war-related poor health (he had been gassed and was asthmatic), combined with official obstruction and poor weather, prevented him from taking to the air. He found this immensely frustrating. He continued to paint into his later years but failing health led to his early death from pneumonia in 1946, aged 57.

He is buried at St. Mary the Virgin, Langley, Buckinghamshire (below).






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