Paul Nash: Modern artist, ancient landscape: Room guide: Landscapes in the 1920s

Paul Nash, ‘Landscape at Iden’ 1929
Paul Nash
Landscape at Iden 1929

Nash described his experience of the years following the First World War as ‘the struggles of a war artist without a war’. During this period he experimented with a variety of styles as he looked for a new sense of direction.

Nash made his first visit to Paris in 1922, followed by longer visits to Europe during 1924–25, where he saw the work of many avant-garde European artists for the first time. An important Cézanne retrospective was also held in London in 1925.

Under these influences, Nash began to focus on the development of abstraction. In 1927 he wrote that he was pursuing what French poet Jean Cocteau called ‘the liberation of geometry’. Nash’s experiments in abstract design are particularly visible in his many book illustrations of this period, such as his wood cuts for Nativity, a book of poetry by his friend Siegfried Sassoon.

Although Nash only produced one purely abstract painting, Kinetic Feature 1931, he was firmly committed to the idea of expressing order through ‘abstract design’. This was a quality that he believed was traditionally lacking in English painting. In his landscapes and still lifes of the late 1920s Nash used abstract and geometric elements in an attempt to impose order and structure on nature. In Dead Spring 1929 the drooping leaves of a decaying plant are trapped within geometric scaffolding, and in the symbolic painting Landscape at Iden 1929, nature is tamed and domesticated: the trees in the orchard are pruned and in the foreground is a neat stack of wood.