Paul Nash and WWI

By Judith Phillips

In our last newsletter there was a piece about the Paul Nash exhibition on at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle.  So it was great to be emailed by someone who had gone to see it and thought it was ‘wonderful’.  I had seen the exhibition when it was in London but I went again last week.  Here are some of my thoughts.

I spent quite a lot of my visit looking very carefully at the First World War paintings.  At the Laing display you can get very close to the paintings and that meant I noticed things I’d not seen before.  ‘The Menin Road’ is one of Nash’s most iconic paintings – I’m sure we’ve all seen reproductions of it in books about the war or on TV documentaries.  But the original is spell-binding, I think.  It’s not the biggest painting of a war scene but it’s certainly one of the most compelling.  Nash’s landscape dwarfs the human figures who are almost only sketched outlines but, for the first time ever, I noticed what is probably a soldier’s corpse lying in a large pool of water at the front bottom edge of the painting.  You can only see the soldier’s coat and cap floating there – there’s no obvious face or hand on display – but somehow I was convinced this was a man who had been killed some time earlier and was now completely separate from the other human beings seen at a distance in the war-torn landscape.  I found it utterly compelling.

And yet, even the war paintings are not all gloomy.  ‘Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood 1917’ depicts ravaged trees but some are showing signs of new growth – a theme we have also come across in some of the books recommended in the book group.  Personally I find some of his later work, particularly those in the surreal and abstract styles, more difficult to get to grips with but the exhibition labels do help to show the connections and developments in his paintings.

But don’t just take my word for it – try and see the exhibition while it’s still on at the Laing (until 14th January 2018).  And there’s a copy of the catalogue in the museum’s WWI reference library, so you can come in and use it when the Reading Room in the museum is open.

Hazel Addison and her sister recall stories of their grandfather John W Errington

Director’s Choice

My name is Karissa Pizzarello and I am a Masters student from the University of Durham, currently on placement with The Bowes Museum for four weeks. In the past two weeks I have been lucky enough to work on a small display project alongside several members of The Museum’s staff.

As part of ‘To Serve King and Country’, The Museum’s WW1 project it was decided that a display be put together to highlight the project as well as show the public current developments that have been made. Displaying soldier’s sketchbooks, loaned to the Museum for the project, along with newspaper cuttings, store catalogues and letters found in the Museum archives; were all selected to be put on display for the month of April in the entrance hall as part of Director’s Choice.

Taking inspiration from the current Gerald Scarfe exhibition, caricature was chosen as a relevant theme due to material lent to The Bowes Museum as research for the project. The cartoons found in the books (see below), as well as further research into magazines and newspapers of the period express the importance caricature played during World War One. To those on the front lines these drawings helped to pass the time and were a release from a monotonous and at times horrific environment. They additionally helped troop morale by allowing their dark humour of the situation to shine through.

Having never put together an exhibition so quickly before, it was an eye-opening experience but with the support of the staff and the willingness of people to help, we were able to get the text written and sent to design within the week. In the week that followed, a case was chosen, several object layouts were tried and tested and the exhibit was up!!

Karissa Pizzarello.


Denis Morton, speaking about his father Joseph