Paul Nash was here….and here…and here…

Paul Nash and his wife Margaret had a fairly nomadic sort of lifestyle. Paul found new inspiration from a changing environment, although he had a permanent London residence in Judd St. Bloomsbury.

When the Nash’s arrived in Dymchurch, post-World War 1, Paul made a note for his (never completed) autobiography, it said;  “A new life in a different world”.

A few months ago I visited the National Art Library at the V&A in London. This fantastic library in a magnificent setting holds a considerable archive of Nash letters.  My aim was to get to the truth as to where exactly the Nash’s lived during their six year stay in Dymchurch.

Paul Nash outside The Little Cottage

This photograph from “Paul Nash Places”, purports to show Nash in 1920 outside 2 Rose Cottages on the High St.  Anyone who knows the village would confirm that Nash is in fact standing outside ”The Little Cottage”, which is one of a row called Dormers Cottages at the south end of Dymchurch.  I needed to prove that Nash was staying at the Little Cottage, not merely visiting.

I proceeded to wade through the Nash archive searching for the proof for my theory. And indeed there it was, one letter only sent from The Little Cottage, amongst hundreds of others. Nash was announcing that he had arrived in Dymchurch and this was his new address.

The Nash’s only lived there for a short while, around 1921 they moved down the High Street to a property in a row known as Rose Cottages, No; 2 to be precise. They rented from a man called Mr Austin. There is a plaque on the wall  marking where the Nash’s are thought to have lived. The houses have been re-numbered and are no longer called Rose Cottages. So there is some dispute about which one the Nash’s actually used.

2 Rose Cottages (note the plaque above the right hand door)

After a period of about 3 years the Nash’s upped sticks and moved a little further down the road to a little place called Pantiles Cottage, opposite what is now the Waterside Guest House, on the Hythe Road.  Pantiles fulfilled Paul’s desire to live in a small cosy home, he seemed happy and settled there and produced a number watercolours of the interior and surroundings.  In the grounds of the property was a large poplar tree which had a very distinctive shape. The tree was so tall and prominent it was used by fishermen as a landmark when returning to Dymchurch. Nash included the tree in some of his pictures.

Pantiles Cottage

The Nash’s stayed at Pantiles for three years. Growing tired of Dymchurch, Paul wrote;  “Poor Dym is swamped not with water, but with people. Oh what people, I almost wish the sea would come over the wall and drown the bloody lot”  Nothing changes…

A view of the extraordinary poplar tree

In 1925 they moved to Oxenbridge Cottage at Iden near Rye, the artist was no longer inspired by Dymchurch. Paul wrote in his autobiography notes; “We find a home of our own in Iden, goodbye to Dymchurch”

And what of the three properties now?  The two High Street cottages are still there, pretty much the same. Pantiles Cottage is no longer standing, demolished to accommodate the widening of the A259. Sadly, all that remains of the once mighty poplar is its rotting stump.

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Fay Godwin The Saxon Shore

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Fay Godwin

Some years ago I was visiting relatives in Cornwall. On the wall I noticed a very striking photograph, at the bottom of the print was a signature.  On closer inspection I realised that the image was a piece of work by the late Fay Godwin. The relatives didn’t know who she was or why I was getting excited about the picture. They had been given the photo and although they liked it and knew it had some value, that was really the extent of their interest.

Fay Godwin died in 2005, she was one of the most prominent landscape photographers of the last 50 years. Although she was born in Berlin she spent her last years at Pett Level near Hastings.

In 1983 she published  a series of pictures based on The Saxon Shore Way, from Gravesend to Rye which were published as a book with text by Alan Sillitoe (still available).

The lovely photgraph my relative had inherited came from this series. It is entitled “Large White Cloud near Bilsington”.  And shows a newly harvested wheatfield, with a dramatic and changing skyline. It is one of many beautiful images of our area captured in an unpretentious way by Godwin.

I don’t think the Godwin print at my relatives house will ever fall into my hands. If I,or you want a signed print by Fay Godwin it will set you back around £750.

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Large White Cloud Bilsington

Charles Sims RA – A Troubled Man

Charles  Sims didn’t visit Dymchurch very often, quite possibly only once. You can probably guess why he was visiting – he was seeing his friend Paul Nash.

Charles Sims RA The Sands at Dymchurch

Sims is not a well-known artist, he had a troubled life. Plagued by mental health issues, his life’s work varied from inspired, skilled and idiosyncratic, to strange and….well, not very good really.

On the up side he became Keeper of the Royal Academy in 1920, his work had started to become recognised and acknowledged. Unfortunately, the 1914-18 war had left deep mental scars and his work after the war became “Spiritual” showing naked figures cavorting against apocalyptic backgrounds This prompted instant rejection by the Art establishment.  With the benefit of hindsight his work from this period was actually very “modern” and quite cutting edge. Nash, eager to associate with Modernism found Sims work exciting. Conversely, the poet Gordon Bottomley, (a life long friend and correspondent with Nash) saw Sims as “unbelievably bad”

Sadly, Sims ended his life in 1928, the stress of losing his son in the war and his own fragile state of mind caused him to throw himself in the river Tweed at St Boswells in Scotland.

Charles Sims “My Pain Beneath thy Sheltering Hand” (bit of El Greco in there I think..)

Fortunately Charles Sims left a considerable and varied body of work. In the 1980’s, I was Curator of Bury Art Gallery in Lancashire. The collection there (which is very fine and worth a visit) contained a number of oil sketches by Sims which had a freshness and fluidity of brushwork which at the time caught my eye.

Happily, Sims’ visit to Dymchurch in 1920 left a painted legacy, a beautifully worked view of the beach, which is bright, modern and uplifting. It’s now in the Tate Britain Collection.

Strangely Strange – But Oddly Normal

In 1931 Paul Nash’s wife Margaret , (where would he have been without her?) bought him a No1a Kodak Series 2 camera. The camera was a present to take with them on their trans- Atlantic crossing to America

1971 Tate Catalogue

 

In eleven years since arriving in Romney Marsh, Nash had made hundreds, perhaps thousands of drawings and watercolour sketches. By this method he recorded ideas, feelings, emotional states and dream-like memories.

Nash had an eye for the “surreal moment”, strange juxtapositions of objects, everyday things that, for a fleeting moment seemed strange and somehow “odd”.

Dead Tree Romney Marsh

In 1930 Nash was living at New House in Rye (which today is marked by a Blue Plaque ).  According to the poet and novelist Conrad Aiken, who was a sometime resident of Rye, “you could see him anywhere, everywhere (taking photos) perched on a style in the middle of The Marsh, waiting to get a very special light on the reeds…he was into everything”

Margaret’s idea for the gift was a good one, the camera was an ideal tool for Nash and both aided and complemented his painting.  He became well-known as a photographer; his shots of the South of France and Spain have a particular quality to them.

The Camera

Photographic technique did not really interest Nash he used the camera to record and to capture moments. He also assembled compositions as a painter would a still life.  As an Official War Artist in 1940 Nash took photographs of an aircraft dump in Cowley Oxfordshire, these led to the creation of one of his best known and most powerful oil paintings “Totes Meer”.

Nash’s photographs around Romney Marsh are about bringing something more from everyday things.  A dead tree, an arrangement of bits of bark and wood, shadows on steps and so on. Through his use of light and dark and his eye for the unusual, he brought “life” to inanimate objects. Nash produced photographs that were very personal and very recognisable as his own work.

Totems Old Harbour Rye

The Marsh today still has a mystery and unworldly feel to it especially on a morning like today, the mist is clearing and the sun is breaking through.

An ideal day to take some Nash inspired photographs!

When a great etcher visited the Marsh

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson was a very interesting artist.  His images of the 1914-18 War look modern, full of action and capture the “feel” of warfare as it existed at that time.

Nevinson -Banking at 4000feet  etching

His fellow artist Walter Sickert wrote at the time that Nevinson’s painting ‘La Mitrailleuse’ (now in the Tate collection) ‘will probably remain the most authoritative and concentrated utterance on the war in the history of painting.

ImageLa Mitrailleuse by Nevinson (Tate Britain)

Nevinsons’ exploits during the war are well documented and really well-worth reading. The Tate and The Imperial War Museum have large collections of his work.

Nevinson dabbled around the edges of the Vorticist movement; he is thought to have inspired the title of their manifesto publication “Blast”.  He attended the Slade School of Art in London, his fellow students included, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler and Paul Nash.

And now the link with Romney Marsh and,  ultimately, to Dymchurch.

Nevinson visited Paul Nash whilst the artist was in residence at Dormers Cottages on the High St, this would be around 1920. It is Nevinson who is credited with teaching Nash the art of Lithography. “Dymchurch- The Sluice” is a fine example of an early Nash lithograph. The”Sluice” is now known as The Outfall and can still be seen today to the left of the main slipway.

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The Sluice Dymchurch 1920 Paul Nash

For himself, in 1923 Nevinson created a beautiful etching titled “Romney Marsh”.  An image from this edition is in the Rye Art Gallery collection.  Another print from the edition sold at Bonham’s last week for £10,625, twice the estimate.

The Bonham’s catalogue entry quotes Paul Konody, a leading critic in the 1920’s “In these plates he makes the etched line express a spaciousness, airiness and breeziness that are as a rule reserved for the experienced landscape painters brush. They suggest physical well-being and happy communion with nature.”

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Romney Marsh 1923 by Nevinson

To me,  Nevinson’s wartime images can be brutal, graceful and incredibly powerful and compelling icons of the machine age.  His mellow pastoral rendition of rural Romney Marsh has a different quality, it speaks much more quietly.

Either way, I’m a big CRW Nevinson fan.