Paul Nash (1889-1946) was a British surrealist painter and war artist, as well as a photographer, writer and designer of applied art. Nash was among the most important landscape artists of the first half of the twentieth century, and he played a key role in the development of Modernism in English art. Born in London, Nash grew up in Buckinghamshire where he developed a love of the landscape. He entered the Slade School of Art but was poor at figure drawing and concentrated on landscape painting. Nash found much inspiration in landscapes with elements of ancient history, such as burial mounds, Iron Age hill forts such as Wittenham Clumps and the standing stones at Avebury in Wiltshire.
The artworks he produced during World War I are among the most iconic images of the conflict. After the war Nash continued to focus on landscape painting, originally in a formalized, decorative style but, throughout the 1930s, in an increasingly abstract and surreal manner. In his paintings he often placed everyday objects into a landscape to give them a new identity and symbolism.
Wood on the Downs depicts Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, which Nash first visited with his brother and fellow artist, John Nash. Some of the stylisation and mannerisms of Surrealism are evident here, in the distinctive grouping of trees depicted on a monumental scale. Nash developed a particular interest in trees. He wrote: 'I sincerely love and worship trees and know that they are people.'
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