1 – Paul Nash

Event on the Downs, 1934 (oil on canvas)

Event on the Downs, 1934 (oil on canvas)

Panel 1- Paul Nash (1889-1946), the well-known landscape painter and war artist, was educated at St Paul’s School in London. The descendant of lawyers and naval officers he decided to become an artist and studied at Chelsea Polytechnic and the Slade School of Fine Art. In 1914 he married Margaret Odeh. The couple retained Margaret’s small flat near King’s Cross while basing themselves in Sussex and Kent. From October 1934 to early in 1936 they lived in Swanage, first at Whitecliff Farm and then at No 2, The Parade.

Nash suffered from asthma and he moved to Swanage in the hope that the climate might improve his health. The winter of 1934/5 was so mild that in January primroses and roses flowered in the garden at Whitecliff.  Feeling revived, Nash began a new series of paintings in which he explored nature and the landscape, often focussing on what he called the ‘object-personage’; an object which seemed to resemble or take on the personality of something else.  In the famous painting Event on the Downs of 1934, which has Ballard Head in the background, a decayed tree trunk seems to symbolise Nash’s illness and possible death and the bouncing tennis ball his new, optimistic feelings about life.

In paintings like this Nash was experimenting with Surrealism, a movement that had started in Paris in the 1920s and celebrated dreams, the unconscious and the unexpected. He found Swanage, littered as it was with the curious bollards and buildings that George Burt had imported from London in the last century, decidedly surreal.

This was a remarkably creative and productive period for Nash. As well as painting and exhibiting a considerable number of watercolours and oils he found time to travel all over the county taking photographs and researching his Dorset Shell Guide.

Seaside Surrealism: Paul Nash in Swanage by Pennie Denton, can be purchased from the bookshop in Station Road. Price £12.00.