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John Nash, R.A. (1893-1977)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more John NashThe last major exhibition of John Nash’s work in a public gallery was in 1967 at the Royal Academy. Since then, he has been overlooked if not actually forgotten. For over half-a-century his paintings, prints and drawings have been marginalised in the story of Modern British art. There are two main reasons for this: Nash’s own lack of worldly ambition and his disinclination to promote himself, and the fact that his work does not fit into the linear development of successive radical art movements so beloved of art historians and theorists. John Nash was an independent and something of a maverick: more interested in painting the world as he saw it than in joining the surrealists or the debate between abstraction and figuration.In this he was the diametrical opposite of his older brother Paul, whose fame has also helped to eclipse John’s reputation. Paul was an art world mover and shaker, a writer of manifestos, a dedicated self-promoter, hugely ambitious and eager to ally himself with the latest international stylistic developments. Temperamentally the brothers were worlds apart — much less so in their art. Before the First World War they were spoken of as ‘the Nash brothers’ because their work was so close in spirit, and John’s paintings frequently received better reviews than Paul’s. In the 1920s, John was the more assured painter in oils as Paul took time to reach his stride. And it was John who encouraged Paul to take up wood engraving, not the other way around, as often thought. A certain sibling rivalry kept them both up to the mark, but by the 1930s Paul had pulled ahead and made sure that his work would not easily be forgotten. Within ten years of his early death in 1946, books on his work included a lavish memorial volume, a monograph on his photography and an adulatory biography, together with his autobiography. After a tiny book on John Nash appeared in 1925, there was nothing of consequence (bar Freddy Gore’s excellent essay for the catalogue of the Royal Academy retrospective) until John Rothenstein’s brief study was published in 1983, followed ten years later by Allen Freer’s excellent though also rather short monograph. Only now is John Nash receiving the attention he has always deserved, with the publication of my lengthy book John Nash: Artist and Countryman (2019), to be followed by a museum exhibition in 2020.Two quotations from Allen Freer’s monograph on John Nash give the flavour of his writing and his enthusiasm for this artist. Firstly, here is a description of Nash’s powers of observation: ‘Related to this sharpness and sensitivity of observation is the quality of concentration he manages to get into his finest landscapes. He immediately seizes on the pattern that will bring the various elements of a landscape into a coherent whole — he would, if pressed, refer to these as the abstract qualities of a landscape — by which he meant the vital relationship of specific natural forms. It did not do to pursue this line of thought too remorselessly with him. It was an intuitive gift he knew he had and one which he knew would not be helped by art-theoretical probing. But it was unmistakably there in his best pictures and it is what gives them their especial qualities of freshness, unity and unequivocal directness.’ And here Freer evokes the Nashes' East Anglian home, Bottengoms Farm: ‘To come upon this place at any time of year was a wonder, astringent yet strangely welcoming in winter, burgeoning and voluptuous in high summer. It was like being able to walk into a pastoral dream, at once commonplace, rural, workaday and yet, extraordinary. Here John Nash and his wife Christine lived for the last thirty or so years of their lives. No other place could be more appropriate for a man who knew himself to be a countryman, an artist and a plantsman.’ This was where Allen visited John Nash in the 1970s, and it was in this period that he acquired many of the fine Nash watercolours to be seen in this auction.A.L.
John Nash, R.A. (1893-1977)

Misbourne Valley, Chalfont St. Peter

Details
John Nash, R.A. (1893-1977)
Misbourne Valley, Chalfont St. Peter
signed 'John Nash' (lower right), dated '1915' (lower left), inscribed 'Misbourne Valley/Chalfont St. Peter/dull evening' (on the reverse)
pencil, watercolour, chalk and ink on paper
10 x 10 ¾ in. (25.4 x 27.3 cm.)
Executed in 1915.
There is an ink and watercolour drawing of a landscape by the same hand on the reverse.
Provenance
Purchased directly from the artist by the present owner in 1975.
Literature
A. Freer, John Nash 'The Delighted Eye', Aldershot, 1993, p. 52, illustrated, as 'Meon Valley'.
A. Lambirth, John Nash: Artist & Countryman, Norwich, 2019, p. 312, illustrated.
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Philip Harley
Philip Harley Head of Sale

Lot Essay


This unusual study of a landscape seemingly modelled out of bruise-blue ink is a deliberate attempt to render the dull heaviness of the atmosphere before a storm. Everything is blue or green, and specific form has been diminished in favour of the clumping together of trees and bushes. There are traces of light in the sky, but very little in the immediate landscape, though some of the trees in the distance reassert their separateness in fitful evening sun. A striking, moody image, and far more expressionist than most of Nash’s work, it is rather beautiful and oddly memorable. Allen Freer wrote of it: ‘Who else at that time would have used that haunting cerulean blue for the trees to offset the green of the mounds, or the one dark tree on the right of the picture, painted in a blackish green so that it forms a point of meaningful emphasis? … It is a picture one feels one could travel into. And yet more impressive than the subtlety of structure and colour is the atmosphere generated; it has a kind of spell-bound calm that is uncannily disconcerting, almost as if Time had had to stop.’

A.L.

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