Paul Nash’s autobiography occupied the last fifteen or so years of his life. Starting in 1930, it was still unfinished when he died suddenly in 1946. The problem, as he acknowledged, was that he struggled to get beyond the start of the First World War, the period up to then being, “another life, another world”.
Eventually published in 1949, the version that exists provides many insights into the life of an artist and the development of a very distinct vision. Many, perhaps even most, artists think visually and struggle to express themselves in words. Nash, however, writes coherently and elegantly and demonstrates considerable self-awareness. It is entirely possible that the events that stopped him in his tracks also promoted this; writers who deal with the same period are similarly introspective and the period has promoted much great and thoughtful literature.
The original publication included a selection of the letters Nash wrote to his wife Margaret from the Western Front and these provide further insights into his state of mind as well as his experience of war. A new element here, though, is Margaret Nash’s previously unpublished memoir of her husband, written in 1951. This goes a long way towards completing the story and filling in many gaps.
The whole is augmented by reproductions of some of Nash’s major works although, as the paper used is more suited to type than images, they serve more as aides-mémoire than actual milestones.
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