By Judith Phillips
Tate Britain (London) is showing an exhibition of work by Paul Nash until 5th March. I recently went to see it and was fascinated particularly by the sections showing his work as an official war artist in both world wars.
Nash (1889-1946) joined the Artists’ rifles (part of the 28th London Regiment of Territorials) at the outbreak of war. In august 1916 he began officer training and was sent to the Western Front in February 1917 as a second lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment. He was invalided back to England in mid-1917 after a bad fall. While he was in England, most of the men in his previous unit were killed in the assault on Hill 60. Nash returned to France as a war artist in late 1917.
I recognised some of the paintings from books but, of the First World War ones, I had only seen ‘The Menin Road’ before. The paintings are striking, partly because they are so quiet and calm on first sight. But look more closely, and you see evidence of destruction everywhere, even though there is little action. The sombre colours add to the general feeling of disquiet.
There’s now a reference copy of the exhibition catalogue, complete with colour plates of the paintings and a series of essays, in the museum’s Reading Room, along with several other books on many aspects of the war and its aftermath that you are welcome to come and look at when the Reading Room is open to the public (days and times on the museum’s website).