This quintessentially English view from the river Avon was painted by John Nash, whose highly original and atmospheric depictions of rural England are only now beginning to gain the recognition they deserve.

Nash was born in London 1893, where he grew up with this older brother, artist Paul Nash, until the family moved to Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire in 1901. He was educated at Langley Place, Slough, and Wellington College, Berkshire, during which time he developed his interests in botany.

This interest was manifest through his studious draftsmanship and studies of plants. On his brother’s advice, Nash did not receive any formal artistic education. Paul suggested that art school ruined one’s natural talent, and that he was lucky to ‘begin free from the disadvantages of conventional training.’[1] This did not mean, however, that Nash was oblivious to the teachings of prestigious art schools. Through his older brother, he met numerous artists training at the Slade and Royal College...

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This quintessentially English view from the river Avon was painted by John Nash, whose highly original and atmospheric depictions of rural England are only now beginning to gain the recognition they deserve.

Nash was born in London 1893, where he grew up with this older brother, artist Paul Nash, until the family moved to Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire in 1901. He was educated at Langley Place, Slough, and Wellington College, Berkshire, during which time he developed his interests in botany.

This interest was manifest through his studious draftsmanship and studies of plants. On his brother’s advice, Nash did not receive any formal artistic education. Paul suggested that art school ruined one’s natural talent, and that he was lucky to ‘begin free from the disadvantages of conventional training.’[1] This did not mean, however, that Nash was oblivious to the teachings of prestigious art schools. Through his older brother, he met numerous artists training at the Slade and Royal College of art, who became incredibly influential throughout the development of his early career; Claughton Pellew, Dora Carrington, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden.

In 1913, Paul and John Nash held a popular joint exhibition at the Dorien Leigh Galleries in South Kensington. Though Nash would become somewhat overshadowed by his older brother, the celebration of these early ventures is notable. During the First World War, in 1916, Nash joined the ‘Artists Rifles’ and saw active service in France, before being appointed an Official War Artist in 1918, a position he would later resume in 1940 for the Admiralty.

Nash’s love for the English countryside grew only stronger after his experiences during the First World War. Art critic, Eric Newton, wrote in 1939; ‘If I wanted to make a foreigner understand the mood of a typical English landscape … I would first show him a good Constable and then one or two of John Nash’s best watercolours.’[2] The present work is a beautiful illustration regarding this understanding of nature and demonstrates an acute awareness of contemporary modernist discourse concerning developments in representing three-dimensional depth in painting. Nash’s compositional segmentation of colour, particularly within the organic ripples of water in the foreground, offer an ephemeral atmosphere.

As indicated on the back of the painting, this scene depicts the river Avon. Nash spent the summer of 1924 and 1925 in the cities of Bath and Bristol; it is possible that the present painting was completed during one of these trips. Andrew Lambirth postulates that his ventures to the South West, in particular his canal-side paintings in Bath, are ‘perhaps some of the more Cezannesque of NJ’s paintings; solid structures of golden-grey stone with the fluidity of water running through them.’[3] The cultural exchange between London and Paris at this time was strongly apparent, as was the pursuit of post-impressionistic styles of painting. The present work highlights the subtle influences of the Fauvists and Cubists, in particular, on Nash’s working methods.[4]

Despite the artistic limitations of watercolour’s finish, Nash has also achieved a subtle textural juxtaposition between the sky and the foreground. This sympathetic understanding of both his subject and medium places Nash, not only as the exceptional ‘artist plantsman’ to which he is often referred, but as an integral member within the development of British modernism.

[1] Rothenstein, J. 1956. Modern English Painters: Lewis to Moore. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 236.

[2] Newton, E. 1950. In My View. London: Longmans, p. 107.

[3] Lambirth, A. 2019. John Nash: Artist & Countryman. Norwich: Unicorn Press, pp.95-96.

[4] Lambirth, John Nash, p. 94.

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500 Years of British Art