Paul Nash, 'Wittenham Clumps' circa 1943-4

Paul Nash
Wittenham Clumps circa 1943-4
Oil and pencil on canvas
support: 633 x 757 mm frame: 710 x 835 x 55 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Paul Nash Trust 1986© Tate

Nash first visited the Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire as a child but returned to paint them throughout his lifetime. The Clumps, two conical hills crowned with trees, were ancient Iron Age hill forts. Nash was once again drawn to a landscape with folkloric, mystical or historical significance.

In 1942 Nash first visited the home of his friend Hilda Harrisson, who lived at Boar’s Hill outside Oxford.

He often stayed there during periods of convalescence from illness during the war. The Wittenham Clumps were visible from the house and during his many visits Nash would sit looking across to them in the distance. This view inspired a series of works depicting the Clumps under different aspects of the moon. The moon had featured as a motif in Nash’s work since the 1920s; it symbolised the changing rhythm of the seasons, of decay and rebirth, life and death. In this magnificent series of works Nash is less concerned with a close observation of the actual scene than with an imaginative interpretation of the changing landscape. His use of colour became more rich and intense and his brushwork more fluid. In Landscape of the Moon’s Last Phase 1944, the Clumps loom close up, and in other works they are barely visible in the distance. With declining health, Nash’s obsession with this scene reveals his tireless fascination for the ever-changing yet enduring continuity of nature.