I visited the Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Modern this morning. There was a serendipitous moment en route: the Gill-like relief sculptures on Neville House in Page Street:
Thanks to an obliging doorman, I learned that they are by Edward Bainbridge Copnall and depict the modern era; they obviously came from an earlier building.
But back to Nash: it was interesting to see the motifs that threaded through his work: trees, pyramids/triangles, doorways, love of the English countryside. The painting The Ypres Salient at Night (1918) contained the triangles (here exploding shells) of his pre-war work, and in particular I thought his greatcoated figures echoed the trees in Night Landscape (1912). Early influences were obvious: William Blake, Rossetti, hints of de Chirico (e.g. disembodied shadows). We Are Making A New World was chilling: tree trunks like arms in quicksand mounds like soldiers’ helmets; the blood-red sky – was it sunrise or sunset? That sky also appeared in his second world war painting, The Battle For Germany. He certainly seemed to have favourite colours, and his compositions seemed to pivot around the same shapes. His move into surrealism was less interesting to me – it seemed solipsistic, whereas his landscape or war paintings seemed to speak to a wider audience. Totes Meer – a sea of crashed German planes with a wheel that looked like a kraken’s eye – was a masterpiece.
Then off to the National Gallery to look at the new candidates for the fourth plinth. We voted for The Emperor’s Old Clothes by the Raqs Media Collective. It did make me reflect on how imperial power is gained and lost and the dreadful injustice that ensues. And how someone like me – white, British, a privileged foreigner in other countries and not personally deserving of the good fortune that I enjoy – has inadvertently piggybacked onto that injustice.
And then revisiting some old favourites. It had to be Pieter de Hooch ( I used to have a poster of this one on my bedsit wall in Manor House), and Constable to continue the Suffolk theme of this week.
I realised how many more paintings I wanted to look at again, never mind leaving the opportunity for more serendipitous discoveries, but at this point it was time to go.