Paul Nash aircraft photograph
Paul Nash (1889–1946)
TGA 7050PH51W

For the first Tate Archive 40 blog post I have selected a seminal item from one of our most important collections – Paul Nash’s personal papers and photographs - acquired in our first year of collecting: 1970. This photograph of a wrecked German aircraft taken at a Metal and Produce Recovery Unit at Cowley in Oxfordshire, was taken and used by Paul Nash as the basis of Totes Meer, in which he depicted a field of wrecked warplanes as turbulent ocean waves. It is considered to be a key work of the early 1940s, and is now in the Tate collection. Paul Nash (1889–1946) was an English landscape painter, surrealist and an offical war artistand is widley considered to be one of the most important British artists of the first half of the twentieth century. This photograph stands out for me, as it shows both the relationship between a painter and his source material and highlights the process of finding and happening upon things that can become the inspiration for future works of art. Nash described the moment when he saw the wrecked aircraft as

The thing looked to me, suddenly, like a great inundating sea. You might feel - under certain circumstances – a moonlight night, for instance, this is a vast tide moving across the fields, the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain. And then, no, nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead. It is metal piled up, wreckage. It is hundreds and hundreds of flying creatures which invaded these shores. Well, here they are, or some of them. By moonlight, the waning moon, one could swear they began to move and twist and turn as they did in the air. A sort of rigor mortis? No, they are quite dead and still. The only moving creature is the white owl flying low over the bodies of the other predatory creatures, raking the shadows for rats and voles. She isn’t there, of course, as a symbol quite so much as the form and colour essential just there to link up with the cloud fringe overhead.

This image forms part of a larger collection of photographs alongside personal papers by Nash and housed in the Tate Archive (TGA 7050).  Tate Archive also houses Nash’s personal library (TGA 964) as well as other smaller archive collections relating to the artist. Inspiration can come in many forms – can you think of interesting examples of source material that have inspired you to create a work of art?