It is unspeakable, godless, hopeless. I am no longer an artist interested and curious. I am a messenger who
will bring back word from men fighting to those who
want the war to last forever. Feeble, inarticulate will be
my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it
burn their lousy souls.
– Paul Nash, letter to Margaret Nash, 13 November 1917
Nash enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles in September 1914 and was stationed in England until 1917. He arrived at the Ypres Salient in March 1917 as a second-lieutenant with the third battalion Hampshire regiment. Initially he was struck by the ability of nature to regenerate the battlefield, as depicted in Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood 1917. He returned to England in May to convalesce after breaking a rib in a fall. When he returned to Belgium at the end of October as an official war artist the landscape he encountered was very different, a mudscape of shell-holes and shattered trees in the aftermath of the Battle of Passchendaele. We Are Making a New World, his symbolist evocation of a landscape destroyed by war, was the centrepiece of his exhibition Void of War in May 1918 which brought him new public recognition. He was commissioned to produce memorial paintings by the Ministry of Information and the Canadian War Records, including The Menin Road. Nash’s war experience transformed his work; he painted in oil for the first time and discovered a new artistic language of powerfully simplified forms which both conveyed the appearance of ravaged landscapes and suggested violent emotional experiences.