Paul Nash, ‘Equivalents for the Megaliths’ 1935
Paul Nash
Equivalents for the Megaliths 1935

In 1933 Nash visited Avebury in Wiltshire and was overwhelmed by the ancient standing stones. The experience was a turning point in his work and the stones, or menhirs, at Avebury and Stonehenge became the focus of a series of paintings during the 1930s.

The magical and primitive presence of the menhirs offered Nash a way of seeing links between his early belief in the genius loci, or spirit, of certain landscapes, his love of visionary painting and poetry, and his recent discovery of Surrealism. These links confirmed his view that the origins of Surrealism were embedded in English culture: from the fantasy landscapes of Samuel Palmer and the Romantic poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge to the nonsense writing of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Nash was one of the key figures of British Surrealism and was on the committee for the influential International Surrealist Exhibition held in London in 1936.

In 1934 Nash and his wife moved to Swanage in Dorset where he began to research material for a Dorset Shell Guide, a project proposed by his friend, the poet John Betjeman. The ancient landscape and monuments of the area, as well as Nash’s research into the history and customs of the region, provided inspiration for many paintings and photographs. He developed a close attachment to the local landscape, visiting landmarks such as the Iron Age Maiden Castle near Dorchester, the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Fossil Forest at Lulworth. In this fertile period Nash developed a new vision of an animated, and animist, landscape.