Paul Nash (1889-1946)
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VA… Read more
Paul Nash (1889-1946)

The Three

Paul Nash (1889-1946)
The Three
signed with monogram (lower right)
ink, coloured crayon and watercolour
15 1/8 x 10 5/8 in. (38.5 x 27 cm.)
Executed in 1912.
Lord Croft, 1959.
His sale; Sotheby's, London, 19 June 1974, lot 148.
With Hamet Gallery, London.
Acquired from Anthony d'Offay, London, 7 April 1976.
M. Eates, Paul Nash The Master of the Image 1889-1946, London, 1973, pp. 16 and 109.
A. Causey, Paul Nash, Oxford, 1980, pp. 30, 350, no. 51, pl. 31.
J. King, Interior Landscapes: A Life of Paul Nash, London, 1987, p. 45.
London, Leicester Galleries, Paul Nash, August 1959, no. 4.
London, Hamet Gallery, Paul Nash, March 1970, no. 1.
London, Tate Gallery, Paul Nash Paintings and Watercolours, November 1975, no. 11.
Chichester, Pallant House, Paul Nash Megaliths and Moonscapes, May 1989, no. 2.
Special notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

The three trees depicted in this work formed part of a row of elms which marked the edge of the Nash property in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. Paul Nash wrote in a letter: 'The strange procession of our boundary trees could be seen crossing the upland at right angles to Wood Lane. These also were elms but of such an eccentric growth that they looked like some new species. In effect they resembled palms, their stems being close-cropped and only the top branches left to spread. But few had grown erect so that they appeared to be hurrying along stooping and undulating like a queue of urgent females with fantastic hats or a file of plumed serpents, reared on their tails. About the centre of this elm row stood three trees which in spite, or perhaps because, of their rigorous cropping had emerged into a singular grace. Their feathered bodies mingled together as they thrust upwards and their three heads fused in cascades of dense leaves spreading out like a crown of a vast fountain. I knew these trees intimately but not very consciously. I now began to look at them with a fresh interest. They were indeed beautiful. I wanted to express something about them. But at present I had no real contact. They stood outside my scheme of things. After a while Pellew talked in vain as far as I was concerned. The new world which his words had begun to conjure up eluded me. Yet I was shaken within; a new vibration had been set up. It was not long before the true response came' (see P. Nash, Outline; an autobiography and other writings, London, 1949, p. 95).

If we did not have a contemporary photograph of the trees it would be hard to believe that Nash had not taken liberties with his subject. Instead we have the first of many instances of Nash's keenly selective eye focussing on an inimitable natural form. He likens the row of trees to 'a queue of urgent females' and there are other instances in which he draws the analogy between trees and humans. In a letter he wrote to Gordon Bottomley in August 1912, he said: 'True, I have tried to paint trees as tho they were human beings ... because I sincerely love & worship trees & know that they are people & wonderfully beautiful people'. He was equally able to reverse the analogy. He wrote to Mercia Oakley at this time, 'I will be your tree, your friend thro good and evil' and he asked her, 'Do you realise the full significance of 'tree' or what it would try to mean to you: A shelter, a shade, a consoling old thing, a strong kind friend to come to'. So there is a double meaning; on the one hand the tree is a symbol of strength and stability, and on the other it has human qualities and watches over the landscape (see Exhibition catalogue, Paul Nash Places, Eastbourne, Towner Art Gallery, 1989, p. 12).

Nash executed two other similar versions depicting the three elm trees: The Three, 1912 (sold Bonhams, London, 8 March 2005, lot 17, for £86,240) and The Three in the Night, 1913 (fig. 1, private collection).

The present work was formerly in the collection of Lord Croft, who bequeathed nine watercolours by Paul Nash to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in 1998.

More from Simon Sainsbury The Creation of an English Arcadia

View All
View All