CLARE WOODS THE UNQUIET HEAD

LANDSCAPE OF THE MEGALITHS

LANDSCAPE OF THE MEGALITHS

1934 Paul Nash (1889 − 1946)

Paul Nash was recuperating from a nasty bout of bronchitis in the summer of 1933 when he first came across the Avebury megaliths, the largest prehistoric stone circle in Europe. He recalled, ‘Some were half covered by the grass, others stood up in cornfields were entangled and overgrown in the copses, some were buried under the turf. But they were wonderful and disquieting, and, as I saw them then, I shall always remember them.’(1) Appropriately, and as was often the case, Nash painted Landscape of the Megalithsfrom memory (conva¬lescence had taken him to the Riviera); the stones are a nexus for the entanglement of the past in present-day landscape.

This is a quietly ‘disquieting’ image. Andrew Causey has criticised it as ‘not so much abstract as empty’, yet the idea of emptiness is crucial.(2) This is a pre-industrial, uninhabited vista, replete with uncanny repetitions; the hilltop copses to left and right look towards Nash’s late oils of Wittenham woods, another prehistoric site. It is dominated by the outlines of two stones, ensnaring a range of fragmentary associa¬tions, to disorientating effect. The larger outline has a druidic circle inscribed in a central position, around which swirl hilltops, clouds and shadows, the near and distant united in orbit. There is a grandeur to the sweeping connection made between the contemporary landscape and the ancient past, matched by Nash’s mysterious aerial perspective, which nods to the pioneering use of aerial archaeology adopted by Alexander Keiller, who bought the Avebury site in 1924 to protect it from the threat of a Marconi wireless station.

The development of hands-off archaeology is paralleled by the painting’s unobtrusive surface and even, un-muddy planes of colour. There are dashes of lichen-like texture within the outlined stones, but above all the avoidance of prominent physical textures draws attention to the picture’s peculiar decomposition of space, serving to distance us from the physicality of the landscape, and instead reduce its atmosphere – the genius loci – to a pure consommé. In a letter (14 April 1934) to his first biographer, Anthony Bertram, Nash insisted that although he wasn’t abandoning painting after Nature, ‘I want a wider aspect, a differ¬ent angle of vision as it were.’(3) Landscape of the Megaliths was first exhibited under the title Landscape Composition, in Unit One’s only exhibition, and it tries to reconcile the ‘battle lines’ that Nash, the group’s driving force, detected between going Modern and being British: ‘internationalism versus the pastoral; the functional versus the futile’.(4) Indeed, the decision to rename the painting to its present, relational title draws attention to Nash’s fascination with what he called the ‘mystery of relation¬ship’ – something that was imminently to attract him to Surrealism. Those conceptual battles lines, however, were as much the legacy of Nash’s experiences as an official war artist on the Western Front. Nash was to make a peculiarly English translation of Surrealism, from the perspective of – as he called himself – a ‘war artist without a war’. So too, Landscape of the Megaliths rethinks the famous lines of Rupert Brooke’s already classic poem, ‘The Soldier’ (1914):

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. ...

Landscape of the Megaliths is a vision of the foreign-ness of English fields; it is a vision filtered through the archaeologist’s windscreen, or the binoculars of a new breed of English tourist, motoring out into rural parts armed with Shell guides and ordnance survey maps.

DF

1. Paul Nash, ‘Picture History’, notes on work 1933–45 prepared for his dealers, Albert Tooth and Sons (1943–45), quoted in Andrew Causey, Paul Nash (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 246.
2. Causey (1980), 257.
3. Nash quoted in Paul Nash: Paintings and Watercolours, exh. cat. (London: Tate Gallery, 1975), 83–84.
4. Paul Nash, ‘Going Modern and Being British’, Weekend Review (12 March 1932).

Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009

  • Accession Number P3
  • Dimensions 49.5 X 73.2 CM
  • Media OIL ON CANVAS

Glossary (3)

  • Contemporary

    Existing or coming into being at the same period; of today or of the present. The term that designates art being made today.

  • Landscape

    Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.

  • Painting

    Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.

Theme

Past exhibitions

OUT OF BRITAIN

  • 2013
    • Romania, Bucharest, National Museum Of Art
  • 2012
    • Oman, Muscat, Bait Al Zubair Museum
    • Kuwait, Kuwait City, Contemporary Art Platform
    • Saudi Arabia, Al Kohbar, Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science & Technology Center
    • Saudi Arabia, Jeddah, Athr Gallery
    • Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Riyadh National Museum

CLARE WOODS THE UNQUIET HEAD

  • 2011
    • UK, The Hepworth Wakefield

OPENING EXHIBITION

  • 2011
    • UK, The Hepworth Wakefield

PASSPORTS. IN VIAGGIO CON L'ARTE

  • 2009
    • Italy, Milan, Padglione D'arte Contemporanea

PASSPORTS: GREAT EARLY BUYS FROM THE BRITISH COUNCIL COLLECTION

  • 2009
    • UK, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery

ANCIENT LANDSCAPES - PASTORAL VISIONS. SAMUEL PALMER TO THE RURALISTS

  • 2008
    • UK, Falmouth, Falmouth Art Gallery
    • UK, Bath, Victoria Art Gallery
    • UK, Southampton, Southampton City Art Gallery

PAUL NASH: MODERN ARTIST, ANCIENT LANDSCAPE

  • 2003
    • UK, Liverpool, Tate Liverpool

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND LANDSCAPES, WAR SCENES, PORTRAITS 1924-1950

  • 2005
    • UK, Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery
  • 2003
    • UK, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery

BLAST TO FREEZE: BRITISCHE KUNST IM 20. JAHRHUNDERT

  • 2003
    • France, Toulouse, Les Abattoirs
  • 2002
    • Germany, Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum

FOR A WIDER WORLD

  • 1991
    • Argentina, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes
    • Bulgaria, Sofia, Cyril Methodius Foundation
    • Belgium, Luxembourg, Musee National D'histoire Et D'art
  • 1990
    • Ussr, Kiev, Ukrainian Museum Of Fine Art

PAUL NASH PLACES

  • 1990
    • UK, Colchester, The Minories
    • UK, Exeter, Royal Albert Memorial Museum
  • 1989
    • UK, York, York City Art Gallery
    • UK, Eastbourne, Towner Art Gallery And Museum

THIRTIES - BRITISH ART AND DESIGN BEFORE THE WAR

  • 1979
    • UK, London, Hayward Gallery

UNIT ONE

  • 1978
    • UK, Portsmouth, Porstmouth City Art Gallery

PAUL NASH PAINTINGS AND WATERCOLOURS

  • 1976
    • UK, Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery
    • UK, Colchester, The Minories
    • UK, Bradford, Cartwright Hall
    • UK, Plymouth, Plymouth City Museum And Art Gallery
  • 1975
    • UK, London, Tate Gallery

PAUL NASH 1889-1946

  • 1974
    • Scotland, Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

PAUL NASH 1889-1946

  • 1971
    • UK, Newcastle, Northern Arts Gallery

CONTEMPORARY BRITISH PAINTING 1900-1962

  • 1964
    • Romania, Palace Of Culture
    • Romania, Bucharest, National Gallery
    • Slovakia, Bratislava, Mirbach Palace & Palffy Palace
    • Czechoslovakia, Prague, ULUV Exhibition Hall
  • 1963
    • Hungary, Budapest, Ernst Museum

JELENKORI BRIT FESTESZET

  • 1963
    • Hungary, Budapest, Ernst Museum

CONTEMPORARY BRITISH PAINTING

  • 1959
    • Mauritius, Mauritius
  • 1958
    • South Africa, Port Elizabeth, King George VI Art Gallery
    • Dar Es Salaam
    • Rhodesia, Ndola
    • Uganda, Kampala, British Council Office - Kampala
  • 1957
    • Kenya, Mombassa, Mombassa
    • Kenya, Nairobi, National Gallery And Museum
    • Zanzibar
    • Blantyre-Limbe
    • Moshi

BRITISH ART 1900-1955

  • 1956
    • Norway, Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus
    • Denmark, Copenhagen, Kunstforeningen

INTERNATIONAL CONTEMPORARY ART EXHIBITION

  • 1953
    • India, New Delhi, All India Arts And Crafts Society

INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION

  • 1952
    • Japan, Sapporo, Marui Gallery
    • Japan, Kyoto, Metropolitan Art Gallery
    • Japan, Fukuoka, Itwataya Gallery
    • Japan, Osaka, Juuge Gallery
    • Japan, Nagoya, Matsuzakaya Gallery
    • Japan, Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Gallery

PAUL NASH

  • 1951
    • UK, Bournemouth, Bournemouth And Purbeck Arts Clubs

CONTEMPORARY PAINTINGS

  • 1951
    • New Zealand, Auckland, Aukland City Art Gallery
    • New Zealand, Wellington, National Art Gallery
    • New Zealand, Dunedin, Dunedin Public Art Gallery
  • 1950
    • New Zealand, Christchurch, Robert Mcdougall Art Gallery

PAUL NASH PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS

  • 1950
    • Canada, London, Regional Art And Historical Museum
  • 1949
    • Canada, New Brunswick Museum
    • Canada, Owens Gallery Of The Mount Allison School Of Art
    • Canada, Art Gallery Of Ontario
    • Canada, National Gallery Of Canada
    • Canada, Winnipeg Art Gallery
    • Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery
    • Canada, Montreal Museum Of Fine Arts

PAUL NASH A MEMORIAL EXHIBITION

  • 1948
    • UK, London, Tate Gallery

NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR

  • 1940
    • USA, Chicago, Arts Club Of Chicago
    • USA, Boston, Museum Of Fine Arts
    • USA, Toledo, Toledo Museum Of Art
    • Canada, Art Association Of Montreal
    • Canada, Art Gallery of Toronto
  • 1939
    • Canada, National Gallery Of Canada
    • USA, New York, British Pavilion World's Fair
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