7 September 2014

John and Paul Nash at RWA Bristol

Perhaps because Britain has a hereditary monarchy, we seem to look kindly on dynastic successions (acceptable even to the political left – the ‘Red Princes and Princesses’) but are reluctant to consider brothers as equals. One Johnson or Dimbleby is regarded as numero uno – fairly or possibly unfairly, for example in the case of the Attenborough brothers. One wonders if some people will ever forgive Ed Miliband for overturning what was perceived as the correct order of things. When it comes to the painters John Nash (1893-1977) and Paul Nash (1889- 1946), it’s Paul who is the more highly regarded, so part of the interest of Brothers in Art: John and Paul Nash at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) Bristol is to see whether in this case the consensus view is the correct one.

This show is part of a wider RWA activity:
Back from the Front - Art, Memory and the Aftermath of War is a programme of exhibitions and events at the RWA commemorating the start of The Great War, and 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. It explores the theme of conflict and memory across a series of interrelated exhibitions …
So it is disconcerting that although both brothers were official war artists in both World Wars when they produced major paintings, there are only peacetime works, landscapes mostly, in Brothers in Art, some from just before the First World War, the majority from the interwar years. Accepting this constraint, among the 40-odd items on display, there are some interesting pieces to see, particularly works by John which are less familiar than those of his brother, for example, A Gloucestershire Landscape (1914, below top) and The Cornfield, (1918, below lower):

Although there are similarities in the brothers’ approach to landscape in the years after the First World War – John’s The Edge of the Plain (1926, below top) and Paul’s Dymchurch (c1921-4 below lower):

Paul’s interest in modernism would lead to Landscape of the Megaliths (1934, below top) and to the surrealistic Equivalents of the Megaliths (1935, below lower):

The absence of any wartime works means that the visitor cannot progress to the next stage of Paul’s work such as his celebrated Battle of Britain, 1941 (see a post here earlier this year) and Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940-1. Similarly, there is no opportunity to examine the relationship of John’s The Farm Pond (1940, below top) to his Oppy Wood, 1917: Evening (1918, below lower):

However, there are some interesting examples of John’s skill as an engraver and illustrator, something which is explored further in Paul Gough’s catalogue Brothers in Art: John and Paul Nash and the Aftermath of the Great War.  For a much more informed opinion than this one, see Andrew Lambirth’s review in the Spectator.

Brothers in Art: John and Paul Nash ends on 14 September.

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