John Nash (artist)

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John Nash
Birth name John Northcote Nash
Born (1893-04-11)April 11, 1893
London, UK
Died September 23, 1977(1977-09-23) (aged 84)
Colchester, Britain
Spouse Dorothy Christine Kulenthal
Nationality British
Field painting, engraving, illustration
Works The Cornfield, Over the Top
Elected Founder member of The London Group

John Northcote Nash CBE RA (11 April 1893 – 23 September 1977) was a British painter of landscape and still-life, wood-engraver and illustrator, particularly of botanic works.


Nash was born in London on 11 April 1893, the younger brother of the artist Paul Nash (1889–1946). In 1901 the family moved to Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. He was educated in Slough and afterwards at Wellington College, Berkshire.

At first he worked as a newspaper reporter, but in 1913 he exhibited landscapes with his brother at the Dorien Leigh Galleries, London, and was invited to join The London Group and the Friday Club.

In 1914 he began painting in oils. In 1915 he joined Harold Gilman in the Cumberland Market Group and in May that year exhibited with Gilman, Charles Ginner and Robert Bevan at the Goupil Gallery.

From November 1916 to January 1918 he fought in World War I in the Artists Rifles. On the recommendation of his brother, he worked as an official war artist from 1918. In May 1918 he married Dorothy Christine Kulenthal.

From 1918 to 1921 he lived at Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, with summer expeditions to the Chiltern Hills and Gloucestershire. In 1919 he became a member of the New English Art Club, and in 1920 was a founder member of the Society of Wood Engravers. In 1921 he became art critic for The London Mercury.

In 1921 he moved to Princes Risborough, also in Buckinghamshire.

In 1923 he became a member of the Modern English Water-colour Society. In 1923 he worked in Dorset; in 1924 in Bath and Bristol. From 1924 to 1929 he taught at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (Oxford).

In 1929 he worked in Essex and Suffolk, where he bought a summer cottage. From 1934 to 1940 he taught at the Royal College of Art (London), working on wood engravings, lithographs, etc. In 1939 he visited Gower, near Swansea - the first of many visits to Gower and other parts of Wales.

He started World War II in 1939 in the Observer Corps, moving in 1940 to the Admiralty as an official war artist with the rank of Captain in the Royal Marines. He was promoted Acting Major in 1943, and relinquished his commission in November 1944.

Afterwards he lived in Essex. He joined the staff of the Royal College of Art in 1945.

He died on 23 September 1977, in Colchester.[1]

Artistic development[edit]

The Cornfield, 1918, oil on canvas, 68.6 x 76.2 cm, Tate Gallery

John Nash had no formal art training, but was encouraged by his brother to develop his abilities as a draughtsman. His early work was in watercolour and included Biblical scenes, comic drawings and landscapes. A joint exhibition with Paul at the Dorien Leigh Gallery, London, in 1913 was successful, and John was invited to become a founder-member of the London Group in 1914, and to join Robert Bevan's Cumberland Market Group in 1915. He was an important influence on the work of the artist Dora Carrington (with whom he was in love), and some of her works have been mistaken for his in the past.

In 1916 he married Carrington's friend Christine Kuhlenthal, who had studied at the Slade.[2] moving to Meadle in Buckinghamshire[3]

Nash began painting in oils with the encouragement of Harold Gilman, whose meticulous craftsmanship influenced his finest landscapes such as The Cornfield (1918; London, Tate). The Cornfield was the first painting Nash completed that did not depict the theme of war. The picture with its ordered view of the landscape and geometric treatment of the corn stooks prefigures his brother Paul's Equivalents for the Megaliths. John said that he and Paul used to paint for their own pleasure only after six o'clock, when their work as war artists was over for the day. Hence the long shadows cast by the evening sun across the middle of the painting.

Over The Top, 1918, oil on canvas, by John Nash, Imperial War Museum.

His most famous painting is Over the Top (oil on canvas, 79.4 x 107.3 cm), now hanging in the Imperial War Museum, London. It is an image of the 30 December 1917 Welsh Ridge counter-attack, during which the 1st Battalion Artists Rifles left their trenches and pushed towards Marcoing near Cambrai. Of the eighty men, sixty-eight were killed or wounded during the first few minutes. Nash was one of the twelve spared by the shell-fire, and painted this picture three months later.[4]

After World War I, Nash's efforts went mainly into painting landscapes. Emotions, however, concerning the war continued to linger for many years; and this was depicted in his landscape painting. This is particularly evident in The Moat, Grange Farm, Kimble, oil on canvas, exhibited in 1922. In this brooding landscape the trees and their tendril-like branches envelope the entire picture plane.The dark subtle colours and evening light give the painting a claustrophobic atmosphere. This painting, completed a few years after the war, is characterised by a sense of bleak desolation that suggests the profound introspection that for many followed the devastation of the war. Although he had a great love of nature Nash often used natural subjects to convey powerful and sensitive thoughts concerning the human condition. [5] He was close friends with the writer Ronald Blythe, who dedicated his best-selling book Akenfield to the artist.

Wood engraving[edit]

In addition to his painting abilities John Nash was also an accomplished printmaker. He was a founder member of the Society of Wood Engravers (1920). He produced woodcuts and wood engravings first as decorations to literary periodicals, and then increasingly as illustrations for books produced by the private presses; these include Jonathan Swift’s Directions to Servants (Golden Cockerel Press, 1925) and Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheard’s Calendar (Cresset Press, 1930). A particular interest in botanical subjects can be instanced in this period by his illustrations to Gathorne-Hardy’s Wild Flowers in Britain (Batsford 1938). [6]

Public collections[edit]

  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK
  • Royal Academy of Arts Online Catalogue
  • National Museum of Serbia,Belgrade
  • Tate Gallery, London, UK
  • Tate Gallery Archive, London, UK
  • The Faringdon Collection at Buscot Park, Oxfordshire, UK
  • Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, U.K.
  • Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Profile
  2. ^ Haycock, A Crisis of Brilliance (2009), p. 243.
  3. ^ Lascelles,Venetia John Nash in Meadle 1922-1939 Privately Published, 2006,
  4. ^ Barry Gregory. A History of The Artists Rifles. Pen & Sword. 2006. p.176.
  5. ^ John Nash 1893-1977 Published in The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London, 1964,11 by Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin.
  6. ^ Sir John Rothenstein, John Nash, London:MacDonald, 1983


  • Blythe, Ronald. John Nash's Cats. (2003. Liverpool: Wood Lea) ISBN 0-9543185-2-8
  • Colvin, Clare. John Nash Book Designs. (1986. Colchester: The Minories) ISBN 0-948252-01-4
  • Freer, Allen. John Nash: The Delighted Eye. (1993. London: Ashgate) ISBN 0-85967-958-6 (hard) ISBN 1-85928-000-5 (paper)
  • Greenwood, Jeremy, ed. The Wood Engravings of John Nash. A Catalogue of the Wood Engravings, Early Lithographs, Etchings and Engravings on Metal (1987. Liverpool: Wood Lea)
  • Haycock, David Boyd. A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War. (2009. London, Old Street Publishing) ISBN 978-1-905847-84-6.
  • John Nash. (British Artists of Today, 11.) (1925. London: Fleuron)
  • Lewis, John. John Nash: The Painter as Illustrator. (1978. Godalming: Pendomer) ISBN 0-906267-00-5 ISBN 0-920538-01-0
  • Nash, John. English Garden Flowers. (1948. London: Duckworth)
  • Packer, William. "John Nash and Over the Top." The Jackdaw, (December/January 2006)
  • Lascelles,Venetia John Nash in Meadle 1922-1939 (2006. Privately Published)

External links[edit]