Paul Nash, ‘Totes Meer (Dead Sea)’ 1940–1
Paul Nash
Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940–1

Everything I am thinking of and imagining now tends towards objects poised, floating or propelled through the middle and upper air, earth, the spaces of the skies and the miraculous cloudscapes that constantly form, change and disappear. … I have become increasingly absorbed in the study of light and the drama of the great luminaries. Particularly the moon and her influence upon all nocturnal objects.
–Paul Nash, letter to Dudley Tooth, 1943

In 1942 Nash returned to the landscape of the Wittenham Clumps. From the garden of his friend Hilda Harrisson’s house at Boars Hill near Oxford, he could see the Clumps in the distance beyond Bagley Wood. He described how the deep history of this place with its hill fort, long barrows and ancient forest gave it ‘a compelling magic’. This was also a landscape of the imagination in which Nash explored the mystic resonance of moments marking the changing seasons such as the spring equinox and the summer solstice and ancient rituals connected to them. The sun and moon were significant symbolic presences in a series of paintings in which Nash’s handling became looser and he used rich vibrant colour to convey his emotional response to the landscape. His final paintings revisited ideas of the soul as a floating presence in the sky now expressed through the imagery of airborne flowers as precursors of death. Reflecting on his own mortality he concluded the essay Aerial Flowers (1945) by saying: ‘it is death I have been writing about all this time … death, I believe, is the only solution to this problem of how to be able to fly’.