I have been trying to figure out the relationship between Paul Nash and John Nash, apart from the fact that they were brothers and exhibited together at the Dorien Leigh Gallery in Pelham Street in November 1913. It is Paul who gets the retrospective at the Tate and John who, so far as I could see, goes unmentioned. But it was John who lived longer, till 1977, became an RA, and had what is described as the first retrospective by a living RA in 1967. I think the answer must lie in a photograph of the two brothers taken in 1937 by Lance Sieveking and now in the NPG, which has a large collection of photographs of John Nash, donated by Ronald Blythe, who now lives in Nash’s house, Bottengoms Farm, in the Stour valley. John is dressed conventionally and looks a bit quizzical. Paul has wide lapels, is wearing a bow tie and lives in Hampstead. The only clue I can find to what they thought of one another is in Ronald Blythe’s obit. of John in which he says that they hated being described, as they were in their first exhibition, as ‘the brothers Nash’.
Happy New Year !
3 thoughts on “John Nash RA”
What an excellent start to the 2017 Blog ! They are both good artists though there is no doubt that, initially, Paul was considered better. But I think that John’s reputation is on the rise and his landscapes may even live longer ?
John Nash has been consistently over-looked and under-rated. Rather like Gilbert Spencer, he suffers from Famous Older Brother Syndrome. (Incidentally, John was Gilbert’s best man when he married.) As it happens, I am trying to do something to bring John proper recognition: I’m currently researching a major monograph on his life and work (to be published by Unicorn Press) which I hope will do something to redress the balance. But there needs to be a major museum show of his paintings, drawings and prints to show just how good he was. What about the RA re-visiting John Nash and giving him a retrospective when I have found out where all the best pictures are lurking?
The relationship between the brothers Paul and John was enormously complex, and will form an important strand in my book. Suffice it to say for the moment that Paul was immensely ambitious and latched on to European Modernism in a deliberate effort to make his art more ‘relevant’ and of the moment. His best work, as is currently demonstrated by the over-large Tate retrospective, was done early and late in his career, before he was bitten by Modernism and after he had discarded most of it as irrelevant to his fundamental concerns. At his best, he is a great landscape painter, but so is John. Paul has always been more acceptable in fashionable art circles because of his investment in Modernism (this goes down very well with curators and gives them something to write about), while John is dismissed as being retrogressive and academic. The truth, as usual, is far more complicated than that, as I hope to show in my book. As a pure landscape painter John Nash at his best is very hard to beat, but it takes independence of thought and a real interest in looking at paintings (which many curators seem not to have) to recognise John’s true worth.
However, I am convinced that his time will come!
Dear Andrew, Thank you very much for this long and thoughtful comment, which confirms what I had half thought and intuited from the Tate show: that Paul has been remembered as much for his friendships with the modernists in the 1930s as for the quality of his early and late landscapes. I will much look forward to your book. It’s a good subject. Charles