Art of war

The stark, un­set­tling, bat­tle-scarred land­scapes of one of the most im­por­tant Bri­tish artists of the 20th cen­tury are the fo­cus of a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing in Nor­wich this month, writes ROWAN MANTELL

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

The work of cel­e­brated artist Paul Nash is com­ing to our county

THE WHITE glow of the moon, dif­fused through mist, picks out the jagged edges of a cliff. Far be­low the sea shifts and shim­mers, but across the flat land at the top of the cliff looms the dark shadow of a cloaked woman.

The paint­ing, by Paul Nash, was cre­ated af­ter a visit to Mun­des­ley more than a cen­tury ago. Soon he would be­come renowned as a war artist, paint­ing bleak, bru­tal, beau­ti­ful pic­tures of the night­mar­ish de­struc­tion and des­o­la­tion in the bat­tle­fields around Ypres and Pass­chen­daele.

He was an of­fi­cial artist of both world wars, his land­scapes com­mu­ni­cat­ing the ter­ri­ble toll of con­flict through night­mar­ish vi­sions of sharp, op­pres­sive, me­chan­i­cal shapes, and a dark­ness pierced by skele­ton-

white search­lights. Sev­eral of these iconic paint­ings will be on show at the Sains­bury Cen­tre for Vis­ual Arts from Satur­day, April 8, along­side Bri­tish land­scapes, which although an­chored in his­tory and painted in peace­time, are fu­tur­is­tic, stark and un­set­tling.

The Cliff to the North was painted in re­sponse to Nash’s 1912 trip to Mun­des­ley. “We walked in a land­scape en­tirely new to my eyes, flat and che­quered, with all the trees slant­ing one way, their branches welded to­gether in tor­tu­ous forms by the re­lent­less winds,” he re­mem­bered.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, or­gan­ised by Tate Bri­tain, spans Nash’s ca­reer from his ear­li­est draw­ings to his death in 1946, and in­cludes the leaf­less, splin­tered tree trunks rear­ing from grave-like mounds and shell holes of Nash’s 1918 mas­ter­piece We Are Mak­ing a New World, the hellish land­scape of the 1919 The Menin Road and, from 1941, Totes

Meer (Dead Sea), show­ing the wrecked and twisted re­mains of planes con­torted into the waves of a metal sea.

Be­tween the wars Nash shaped an­cient Bri­tish land­scapes of stand­ing stones and burial mounds into sur­re­al­ist im­ages. He was fas­ci­nated by his­tory and the ex­hi­bi­tion also in­cludes Nash’s il­lus­tra­tions for a 1931 edi­tion of the book by 17th cen­tury Nor­wich polymath Sir Thomas Browne, writ­ten af­ter the dis­cov­ery of an­cient burial urns near Wals­ing­ham.

Given the chance to choose any book to il­lus­trate, he pro­duced a se­ries of draw­ings, wa­ter­colours and oils on Browne’s mas­ter­piece around the themes of death and burial. But as well as look­ing back to the dis­tant past, and cap­tur­ing the dev­as­ta­tion wrought by war in his life­time, Nash was also a key fig­ure in the de­vel­op­ment of modern Bri­tish art, and a found­ing mem­ber of Unit One, a group of Bri­tish mod­ernist artists in­clud­ing Bar­bara Hep­worth and Henry Moore.

The Sains­bury Cen­tre show, which runs from April 8 un­til Au­gust 20, is cu­rated by Emma Cham­bers of the Tate and is the largest ex­hi­bi­tion of Nash’s work for many years. On Thurs­day, May 18, Emma will give a lec­ture at the gallery ex­plor­ing Nash’s work from early dream-like moon­lit draw­ings, through the ter­ror and de­spair of the war im­ages to strange, sur­real, half-imag­ined, half-recorded mys­ti­cal moon­lit land­scapes – and huge fly­ing flow­ers.

by Paul Nash

The Cliff to the North

Paul Nash

Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917,

by Paul Nash. 1940-41

Totes Meer (Dead Sea)

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