Thursday, May 06, 2010

Paul Nash

Today I took an absurdly convoluted journey to Dulwich, involving two trains and a tram, to see the Paul Nash exhibition. I almost missed it, but fortunately Lucille warned me that it was finishing this Sunday. Given that the last Nash retrospective was apparently over 60 years ago, not going wasn't an option.

The Paul Nash exhibition has been incredibly successfully, both with the critics and public. It's hard to believe that Nash struggled to make a living from his art and lived in genteel poverty, dying at the relatively young age of 57. Why is he so popular today?

In his day, Nash was one of the "moderns" and his surrealist paintings, with their weird juxtapositions of landscapes and objects, wouldn't have been everyone's cup of tea. But today, his paintings seem terribly English, belonging to a pastoral tradition that goes back to Blake and Palmer.

I was really impressed by the exhibition, but it was far too busy and it was an effort to look at any of the paintings without being distracted by other people.

I seemed to be the youngest person there by at least ten years. Hadn't anyone else bunked off work to see some paintings?

All of the usual suspects were there: retired bachelors with bald heads and a profusion of ear hair; earnest-looking members of art appreciation societies; ruddy-faced port drinkers in lambswool sweaters and chinos; women in their 80s with white bobbed hair and piercing eyes.

Fortunately, almost everyone behaved impeccably. Nobody walked in front of me when I was looking at a painting and there were very few people who insisted on leaning forward and inspecting the brush strokes from a distance of six inches.

But there is one sub-group I haven't mentioned. These people are a menace and have plagued me for years. If I had my way, I would only allow them to visit art galleries during specified hours - perhaps between 10.00 and 11.00 on Tuesday mornings.

They travel in pairs. One is a self-appointed art expert and likes to think of herself as a bit of a character, confidently issuing one platitude after another. The other usually nods and hums in agreement. Nobody would dare to start chatting in a concert but no-one seems to bat an eyelid when someone starts talking at full volume in an art gallery.

There were a few chatting pairs, including one woman who was enthusiastically comparing a painting to the movie Inkheart, but luckily this didn't detract from the exhibition:

The exhibition was a curatorial triumph, with twice as many exhibits than I'd expected. It's a great pity that it had to end, as it was far more interesting than the Dulwich Picture Gallery's permanent collection of old masters.

Two hours later, I was back in Lewes. My walk home from the station took me past the gardens of Southover Grange - a Tudor house that was built out of the ruins of a medieval monastry. It was one of the first really warm spring days and the gardens were full of people enjoying the sun after the long winter.

It looked so idyllic, that I decided to make this short film. The quality isn't great and the music, which I wrote and recorded for a play a long time ago, is a bit wobbly,but I hope it captures some of the essence of the gardens:


Thomas at My Porch said...

So that is Paul Nash. That last painting is the image used on a recording I have of Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem. Now I know more about the artist.

I don't disagree with you about the annoying gallery types. I once saw a man at the National Portrait Gallery here in DC who was using the large gilt frame of a painting like it was a stair rail. And then he seemed to think that I was the innapropriate one for telling him to stop.

Brett said...

I'm envious! Thanks for the images. I've only seen a few Nash reproductions in books about WWI.

Charming little video, too.

Lucille said...

Yes I had to try to shut out one of the pontificating art critic types when I went. In the confined space it was almost impossible to escape her lecture.

I enjoyed your film - the fleeting images and slightly old fashioned colours very well matched by the music.

Mrs Trefusis... said...

What a lovely post, & a wonderful film. I thought the music was marvellous. Thankyou

JonathanM said...

You should have popped up the hill.

Steerforth said...

I would have done - I didn't realise how near you were until I saw the transmitter. Unfortunately I had no A-Z and SE London is terra incognita (even though I grew up a mere 14 miles away).

Still, I liked what I saw and will be making a return visit, I'm sure.

Art said...

The video looks just like Springtime!

And yes, it's best to avoid those pairs. Sounds like a lovely exhibition though.

Motherhood The Final Frontier said...

A lovely post - so enjoyed the film.
And now for the awful, terrible news. I have given you a blog award which is a bit like a cross between a chain letter and VD. I do hope you (and your wife) will forgive me. Feel free to ignore xo

Richmonde said...

There was a Nash retrospective at Tate Liverpool in 2003:,9171,471158,00.html

Yes, that's my review! Blatant self-promotion! Nash was a great artist. His paintings of both wars are his best. Also the stark landscapes he painted between the wars.

Steerforth said...

Richmonde, you can self-promote as much as you like - your article was really interesting (and for Time magazine! I'm impressed).

Motherhood - thank you for this accolade. An award that's like VD? It sounds as if I'm getting the clap in both senses of the word. I shall try to think of something next week.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Beautiful music and a beautiful scenery at Southover Grange. Very evocative of English springtime indeed. Thank you.

Yes Paul Nash was an interesting artist in the post-apocalyptic post-war period when the country was trapped between grief at all that had been lost and excitement about the future. My father has a number of paintings by a friend of his who painted in a very similar style.