Artist and compatriot by Andrew Lambirth

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JOHN NASH (1893-1977) was an accomplished painter known for his landscapes and illustrations of flowers and plants. But he lived in the shadow of his critically acclaimed artist brother Paul (1889-1946). John's relative darkness means that Andrew Lambirth's comprehensive monograph is the first serious art-historical evaluation of his work, published 42 years after the artist's death.

John Nash: The artist and compatriot is a carefully researched and well-considered study of someone who, as Lambirth argues, has been underestimated time and time again.

While both Paul and John were known for their landscapes, Paul was a surrealist, an intellectual schooled by art school intellectual exponent of ideas and symbolism, whose work was right Crown Copyright UK Government Art CollectionStour Valley (before 1959), oil, by John Nash, from the book. He has received less attention than the East Anglian artists Edward Bawden and Eric Raviliouswith the zeitgeist in the first half of the 20th century. However, John was a self-taught, not demanding nature lover.

"In (Paul Nash's) works," writes Lambirth, "a broken tree stump would have been a romantic symbol of death – as would be the case with paintings by Caspar David Friedrich or Edvard Munch." In (John's) work it was just a tree stump. . . he celebrated the fact of the country. "

Lambirth quotes the master of Downing Edward Marsh: "When Jack sits down in front of a landscape, his only wish is to do his best for it, while Paul, who likes to order nature, uses it as a springboard for some construction work."

The book gives John Nash his well-deserved day in the sun. It shows his career, his worries and his technique in detail. Disappointingly, I deliberately lack a biographical anecdote: he recognizes his subject's “Randiness” littered with affairs, suffering from “Nash Blackness” and other personal quirks and details, but runs over it. But that's not the job of this job.

The person emerging from the book is a person who had a deep, almost mystical connection to nature – who not only observed the landscape but lived in it, as the subtitle of the book suggests. Even though art came first, gardening came second. The garden that Nash has created on Bottengoms Farm on the Essex-Suffolk border (celebrated by his friend, the writer and former Church Times columnist, Ronald Blythe, who now lives there) is a mix of the wild and the cultivated.© Courtesy of John Nash's estateThe Black Barn, Bottengoms (1947), watercolor, by John Nash; from the book

As a painter and draftsman, Nash had an instinctive eye for design. His work has a graphic sensibility that is convincing. Lambirth sums it up well: “Painting was about shaping nature, but not forcing it into a pattern. Rather look for the abstract structure below the surface detail and interpret without losing the character. “His floral drawings, though accurate, also allowed flair. "I think that a light blooming of a pencil, even part of a plant, is more valuable than a photo."

The clear innocence of John Nash's early landscapes and the sure-footed confidence of his mature East Anglican works in the late 1950s and 1960s – not to mention his plant drawings and exquisite wood engravings – can be compared to the work of his currently fashionable friend Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden . The hope is that this great heavyweight study will get him taken equally seriously.

Malcolm Doney is a freelance writer, broadcaster and Anglican priest. Together with Martin Wroe, he is the co-author of Lifelines: Notes on Life and Love, Faith and Doubt (Unbound, 2018).

John Nash: artist and compatriot
Andrew Lambirth
Unicorn £ 40
(978-1-916495-70-8)
Church Times bookstore £ 36

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