Paul Nash Eclipse of the Sunflower 1945

Paul Nash
Eclipse of the Sunflower 1945
British Council
© Tate, London 2003

The view of the Wittenham Clumps from Boar’s Hill was obscured during the summer by tall sunflowers in front of the window. Nash became absorbed by the rhyming shapes of the sunflower heads, the round hills of the Clumps and the moon or sun in the sky.

Nash planned to make a group of four paintings using the sunflower as an emblem of the sun in the sky.

He was unable to complete the series before he died but he wrote:

In three pictures the flower stands in the blue sky in place of the sun. But in the ‘Solstice’ the spent sun shines forth from its zenith encouraging the sunflower in the dual character of sun and firewheel to perform its mythological purpose.

Nash was reading James Frazer’s collection of international folklore, The Golden Bough (1926) which tells the story of an old European Midsummer festival where burning ‘firewheels’ were rolled down a hill to imitate the course of the sun in the sky. Nash found a rich source of imagery in these stories of mystical rituals associated with the land, as well as inspiration from William Blake’s well-known poem ‘Ah! Sunflower’.

Painted during the war and with Nash’s health rapidly declining, these images of the endurance of nature and the seasons are inevitably connected to his thoughts about death and the afterlife. In his essay Aerial Flowers he wrote:

Death, I believe, is the only solution to this problem of being able to fly. Personally, I feel that if death can give us that, death will be good.

He died in July 1946.