O Dreaming trees, sunk in a swoon of sleep
What have ye seen in these mysterious places?
– Paul Nash, poem written for Mercia Oakley, c.1909
Nash’s earliest works were symbolist drawings accompanied by his own poetry and influenced by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Blake. He combined mysterious figures with landscape settings to evoke a supernatural world, and explored the dream-like atmosphere of the moonlit night landscape. Nash described how ‘my love of the monstrous and the magical led me beyond the confines of natural appearances into unreal worlds’. Gradually natural forms replaced his spirit beings, and Nash began to invest trees with distinct personalities, describing how he had tried ‘to paint trees as tho’ they were human beings’. His landscapes explored the area around the family home, Wood Lane House at Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire, focusing on the ‘bird garden’ and the boundary between garden and countryside marked by a line of mature elm trees. A group of these trees, which he named ‘The Three’, became particularly important presences for him. In these years Nash also explored the idea of a ‘spirit of place’, and particular locations such as the Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire took on great significance for him. Nash’s night landscapes and tree studies were shown together in his first exhibition at London’s Carfax Gallery in 1912.