In the 1920s when he made a name for himself, Nash, back from the trenches and suffering from what he had seen there, thought of himself as a "war artist without a war". The exhibition notes said that he had "an ambiguous attitude to landscape" which was shared with Spencer, Hillier, Burra and company: neo-romantic, surrealist, uncanny. The exhibition's curator John Stezaker (himself an artist) said:
Paul Nash’s work represents a watershed in British landscape painting. His First World War paintings are probably his most famous works. But it was in the immediate aftermath of the war [...] that a much more disturbing spatial order emerged. A dystopia created by the technological clearing of war ...Shades of Magritte in these pictures, too.
Nash was based at Dymchurch, Kent, on the Romney Marsh, often the subject of his landscapes, although around 1920 he had also been to the north of England to paint industrial scenes, the chimneys, canals and the "Millworkers' Landscape" of Leeds (urban realism, art historians call it). Paul Nash had met his wife Margaret Odeh, a young woman from Jerusalem, in 1913; when she was studying history at Oxford. She nursed Paul through his mental collapse after the First World War. There are touching representations (oils, chalks, watercolours, lithographs, engravings) of her or of the two of them walking along the promenade at Dymchurch and of the strangely angular, black and white waves on the shore, the black shadows cast by the groynes (as in The Tide, a lithograph, 1920) and the geometric shapes and curves of the flood barriers there. Dyke by the Road, 1922, or The Bay, same year, are typical examples of these images, where the influence of the cubists is evident, printed from engravings on wood. The painting featured on the exhibition posters, in black and white oils, was of a Winter Sea (1925, reworked in 1937).
In the 1930s, Paul Nash took up black and white photography, an art form he found easier because of the asthma he had suffered since becoming a victim of a gas attack on the battlefield. His mind was clearly still on the war, as evidenced by his choice of subject matter in the photo Wrecked Aircraft, Cowley, which he took while visiting Dorset. An experimental oil painting from 1930-31 shows a dreamlike, disturbingly unreal scene where the exterior wall of a house appears to merge with an interior wall and floor. He called it Harbour and Window.
Included in the Paul Nash exhibition were pieces by other artists, his contemporaries (Hillier's surrealist, over-bright Hay Making, Spencer's View from Cookham Bridge, and several paintings by Paul Nash's brother, John, that were somewhat gentler in execution), as well as relatively modern imitations of Nash, like Jeffrey Camp's The Way To Beachy Head in oils.
In a side room on the ground floor, John Stezacker (mentioned above), had his own work on display, Aftermath: photographic collages where two images were juxtaposed in one frame, either on the diagonal or in parallel, creating a surrealistic effect.
|Paul Robeson (1927) by Jacob Epstein|
|Robin Hoods Bay in Winter, by Dame Ethel Walker|
|Wave, by Martin Jenkins, 2015|
|Clifford's Tower by LS Lowry|
|The ceramics collection on the upper floor|