Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Wall, Dymchurch

On the centenary of the birth of Paul Nash (1889-1946) there was an exhibition of his art called 'Paul Nash: Places' which focused on seven key landscapes in his career. These landscapes were: Iver Heath, where his family bought a house in 1900; The Wittenham Clumps, strange chalk hills with a group of beech trees at the summit; The Chilterns, where Nash lived immediately after the First World War; the bleak coastal landscape of Dymchurch; Avebury with its prehistoric stones; Monster Field in Gloucestershire, a site where Nash drew and photographed surreal tree forms; and Boar's Hill near Oxford, home of Nash's friend Hilda Harrisson, where he stayed in the early 1940s.

Paul Nash, The Wall, Dymchurch, c. 1923
Source: Tate Gallery - public domain (image added 2017)

The paintings, lithographs and wood engravings Nash made at Dymchurch are particularly compelling when seen as a group. They usually centre on the concrete sea wall and are constructed from the flat planes of sea, sand, steps, pathway and sky. Sometimes there are lonely haunted figures, as in Promenade (1922). It is easy to imagine Nash's memories of the War and his struggle to readjust influencing the mood of these landscapes. Before moving to Dymchurch Nash had never really liked the sea. Indeed in writing about his early life he recalled that his parents had not only failed to encourage his artistic career but had suggested he join the Navy: "I cannot blame my parents for not dedicating me to art but in offering me to the sea I think they were a little casual." However "in those days I knew nothing of the sea or the magical implication of aerial perspective across miles of shore where waves alternately devour and restore the land" (Nash in Outline; an autobiography and other writings (1949) quoted by Clare Colvin in the Paul Nash: Places (1989) exhibition catalogue). These magical implications were what Nash was seeking to explore in images of Dymchurch like Promenade II (1920) and The Wall, Dymchurch (c 1923).

Paul Nash, Promenade II, 1920
(This is the correct date even though the image is labelled 1923)
Source: Tate Gallery - public domain (image added 2017)

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