Curator of Jerwood Collection, Lara Wardle, takes a closer look at one of our newest acquisitions, Paul Nash, The Corner (1919) in this week's blog.
The Jerwood Collection, which is on permanent display at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, grows with new acquisitions and donations each year. One of the works recently purchased is a vibrant watercolour, The Corner by Paul Nash (1889-1946).
Painted in 1919 The Corner marks a critical time in Nash’s career. At the start of the year he was finishing his large scale commission for the Ministry of Information, The Menin Road (now in the collection of Imperial War Museum).
This impressive oil depicts the devastation wrecked on the Belgian landscape during the Battle of Passchendaele in the autumn of 1917: two soldiers are shown stumbling through a place which has become unrecognisable; trees are reduced to blasted stumps; all vegetation has withered; and large concrete blocks, barbed wire and corrugated iron lies strewn in the foreground while the sky has become blackened with smoke and clouds. After completing The Menin Road Nash wrote to his friend, the English poet, Gordon Bottomley that it was ‘by far the best thing I have yet done’, however he was also left, as he put it in his autobiography, ‘a war artist without a war’.
In the immediate post-war period he returned to paint a subject with which he felt a great connection, the English landscape. The Corner was painted during a visit to the village of Whiteleaf, near Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, that Nash made with his wife, Margaret and his brother, the artist John Nash RA (1893-1977).
Nash has used a similar compositional device in The Corner to his oil painting of the same year, The Edge of the Wood (Reading Museum and Town Hall). Both works take different species of trees in full foliage as their subject matter and depict them enclosed within man-made structures of fences and roads. The calmness and serenity of the trees depicted in The Corner and The Edge of the Wood are in complete contrast to the exposed stumps which appear in The Menin Road. In the later works it feels as if the enclosure, provided by the fences and roads, appears to offer protection to Nash’s beloved trees. He wrote in 1912: ‘I have tried to paint as tho’ they were human beings … because I sincerely love & worship trees & know that they are people & wonderfully beautiful people.’
The Corner was first exhibited in November 1919 in a small exhibition of Nash’s recent work at his Fitzroy Street studio and it was either bought or given to John Nash. Paul Nash wrote to Bottomley: ‘my new drawings are dearer to me than almost any work I have yet done. I cannot but help feeling now, at last I am rising – I have wings’. Nash’s optimism was echoed by Margaret who thought that the post-war works which showed Nash’s ‘reaction to a landscape full of design and subtlety of colour’, were ‘among the best paintings of his career’.
The Corner by Paul Nash is on display as part of Century: 100 Modern British Artists (until 8 January 2017). This exhibition, which has been curated by James Russell, brings together works selected exclusively from The Ingram Collection and Jerwood Collection.
A major retrospective of Paul Nash’s work is on display at Tate Britain until 5 March 2017.
View the nation's art on Art UK.
Image: Paul Nash, The Corner, 1919, (detail) Jerwood Collection © Tate, 2016