When the War came, suddenly the sky was upon us all
like a huge hawk hovering, threatening. Everyone was
searching the sky waiting for some terror to fall; I was
hunting the sky for what I most dreaded in my own
imagining. It was a white flower … the rose of death,
the name the Spaniards gave to the parachute.

—Paul Nash, Aerial Flowers, 1945

Paul Nash, ‘Mansions of the Dead’ 1932
Paul Nash
Mansions of the Dead 1932

Nash left London for Oxford in August 1939, just before the outbreak of war. He was appointed as an official war artist by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee in March 1940. While working for the Air Ministry he painted a series of watercolours of crashed German bombers which appealed to him because they were out of their natural element in the clouds. He described how on the ground these fallen giants took on a personified quality as monstrous creatures in the same way that fallen trees had done in his Monster Field series made in 1939. He was also inspired by the piles of crashed planes at the Cowley Dump near Oxford, taking numerous photographs of them which he used as the basis of the painting Totes Meer. In this work he drew on surrealist ideas of metamorphosis to transform the twisted mass of crashed planes into the waves of a metal sea. His observation of aerial combat triggered both fear and new pictorial ideas and, at a time when his health was failing, he became obsessed with the idea of death as an airborne force which he explored in Battle of Germany.