Paul Nash was born in London on 11 May 1889. His father was a barrister and he grew up in the comfortable but tightly structured environment of a conventional Victorian household. The Nash family were traditionally landowners and farmers from Buckinghamshire and Nash was delighted when the family moved back to the country when he was twelve years old.
In the gardens at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, and in the surrounding countryside, Nash discovered a new sympathy for nature. His early experiments in a ‘visionary’ style of painting, inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite artists, gave way to an interest in the vitality and drama of nature.
Nash was particularly fascinated by a group of tall elm trees that grew at the end of the garden. Older than most of the surrounding trees, these dominating elms evoked a sense of the past and had a powerful and haunting presence. Nash had an early tendency to personify nature and wrote that ‘they appeared to be hurrying along stooping and undulating like a queue of urgent females with fantastic hats’.
After a failed attempt at a naval career, Nash joined the Slade School of Art in London. At that time all students were encouraged to concentrate on drawing the human figure but Nash demonstrated little talent or interest in this. In 1912 he showed a selection of drawings, including sketches of the gardens at Iver Heath, to a senior Academic painter, Sir William Richmond, who encouraged him to ‘go in for Nature’. Inspired by this, Nash left the Slade and decided to devote himself to landscape painting. Like his ancestors he wanted to get his ‘living out of the land’.