Paul Nash 1889-1946

Provenance

Mrs Charles Grey

Private Collection, by descent

Fine Art Society, 1974

Private Collection, March 1978

Private Collection, 2005

Exhibitions

1975, London, Fine Art Society, Clausen to Nash: Water-colours and Drawings, 8 July - 1 Aug. 1975, cat. no. 39

Literature

Clausen to Nash: Water-colours and Drawings, 1978, exh. cat. Fine Art Society, cat. no. 39 (illus.)
Andrew Causey, Paul Nash, 1980, Clarendon Press, cat. no. 346, p. 378
Leonard Robinson, Paul Nash: Winter Sea – The Development of an Image, 1997, William Sessions, pp. 68-71, pl. 23 (illus.)
Nash first visited Dymchurch in 1919. The town is situated on the south coast of Kent near the border with East Sussex. He was immediately attracted to its unusual landscape – in particular the long concrete sea wall, the early nineteenth-century Martello towers that had been built in anticipation of a French invasion, and the desert landscape of Romney Marsh that lay behind it. He and his wife Margaret settled there in 1921 and remained until 1925.

In the opinion of the critic John Rothenstein, Dymchurch ‘was a dramatic theme and one susceptible of fruitful treatment by similar methods and in a similar spirit [to the war works]. The watercolours [Nash] made of that nobly curving coast are to be regarded as the completion of an earlier phase than the beginning of a new...A whole series of water-colours came into being as a consequence of his visit to this stretch of coast, designs calculated with exquisite precision to express the rhythmic sweep of the shore, the infinite spaciousness of sea and sky.’

The Shore was made the year after Paul and Margaret Nash moved to Dymchurch, using pen and ink with subtle washes of watercolour. The view of Dymchurch is iconic in Nash’s work, and The Shore is a notable and individual work in his depictions of the Kent coastline. By comparison with The Shore (1923, Leeds Art Gallery), an oil painting that looks across the beach from a similar angle, this watercolour is markedly angular in its composition and style of mark-making. The influence of Cubism and French painting is in evidence, especially that of Cézanne and Picasso. Painted in watercolour, a medium conventionally associated with romantic visions of the English landscape, Nash here used the medium in a spirit of modernist formality, constructing the waves and beach from angular streaks of his pen.

The curving line of the Dymchurch coast is interspersed with protruding groynes of the sea wall, which are described with a strong, linear pattern of boldly demarcated ink lines. During this period, Nash was particularly interested in depicting steps, investigating the formal patterning created by staircases and steps. In The Shore, this interest is brought into conversation with the sharp contours of the sea. The waves are treated with the same sharpness and precision as the wall and its ramp, an interest which Nash explored in isolation in Winter Sea (1925, York Museums), a work that depicts the sea viewed from the beach, the waves filling the picture plane to the exclusion of Dymchurch beach and its sea wall. In both The Shore and Winter Sea, the linearity of the sea evokes the force of the waves along this windswept strip of the North Sea coastline. In keeping with Nash’s creative outlook, The Shore combines a modernist formality of composition with delicately coloured areas of watercolour, and the palette of muted pink, light blue and dusty brown build to create an ingenuitive and eclectic work, one that operates along the knife-edge between English Romanticism and the continental avant-garde.