REVIEWED BY KEITH JONES
Andy Friend: (Thames and Hudson: 2020)
John Nash: The Landscape of Love and Solace is about an artist who made the mid-Stour valley as much 'Nash country' as Dedham is 'Constable country'. The ancient house, Bottengoms, which became home to him and his wife Christine from 1944 to 1977 was a place they loved deeply, and when they died, within one year, they left Bottengoms to a man whom they had come to regard almost as a memberof their family, Ronald Blythe. It was a happy continuity.
Andy Friend's copiously illustrated biography tells the story of John and Christine Nash, paying close attention to the works and their special quality. Landscapes of every kind fascinated him. He loved broad fields which heave among the verdure of the woodland, East Anglian cloudscapes and the clayland pools. Sometimes he leads our eye along wandering walls and past unpeopled windows or workplaces. And most hauntingly there are John Nash's trees, lifting their branches, alive or dead, as if probing the high spaces of the sky. There is something unsettling and subtly alive in these silent scenes.
The same might be said of John Nash's life. His generation endured two world wars and seismic social changes. His mother died young with mental illness. He served in the trenches and was lucky to survive. Later in life he served on the home front in World War II. Nor was domestic peace untroubled. John and Christine settled in various places, were rarely financially secure, and were sometimes involved in extramarital liaisons, which in Christine's case involved women as well as men. Their marriage, however, survived these, and most remarkably, the worst of tragedies. For their son William, an enchanting four-year-old, was killed by falling out of the door of their car one day. Christine, alas, was driving.
Andy Friend's subtitle for this biography suggests a therapeutic relationship between the art and the life. There are no religious references in these works,but the motionless landscapes point the way to reconciliation and peacefulness beyond real suffering and toil. Nash himself was plagued by a probable congenital tendency to depression and found solace in the countryside he loved and inwhose rivers he loved to fish.
Both John and Paul Nash can be counted among the Romantic Moderns of the past century described by Alexandra Harris (2010: Thames and Hudson), including among landscape painters the Nash brothers, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Graham Sutherland and John Piper. Two years after the major exhibition of his brother Paul Nash's work, it is a joy now to have John's wonderful pictures celebrated.