Paul Nash, 'Harbour and Room' 1932-6

Paul Nash
Harbour and Room 1932-6
Oil on canvas
support: 914 x 711 mm frame: 1107 x 905 x 105 mm
Purchased 1981© Tate

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In 1933 Nash sent a letter to The Times announcing the formation of a new modern art movement: ‘Unit One’. The movement was co-founded with the artists Ben Nicholson (an old friend from the Slade), Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, along with the architect Wells Coates and critic Herbert Read. It united different art forms that shared the ‘adventure, the research, the pursuit in modern life’. Their common purpose was to revitalise British art by embracing artistic developments on the continent.

The two most important avant-garde movements in Europe at that time were abstraction and Surrealism. Nash had been experimenting with abstraction since the early 1920s, but in the second half of the decade his work became increasingly preoccupied with Surrealism. His desire to incorporate both these philosophies into a new theory of modern art shows the extent of his commitment, both to modernism for its own sake and to revitalising British art. But his own work suffered and the paintings of this period demonstrate a continuous tug of war between the styles of abstraction and Surrealism, between his wish to pursue ‘abstract design’ and his instinct for ‘the pursuit of the soul’ – his love of visionary painting, fantasy and dream.