Lot 1
  • 1

Paul Nash

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Paul Nash
  • A Dawn
  • chalk, pen and ink and watercolour
  • 38.5 by 30.5cm.; 15¼ by 12in.
  • Executed circa 1912-13.


The Artist, by whom gifted to Mrs Harry Taylor, circa 1913
Mrs J.L. Garvin, by circa 1948, by whom gifted to Mr and Mrs Oliver Woods
Their sale, Christie's London, 18th November 1988, lot 41
Sale, Bonhams Knightsbridge, 28th November 1996, lot 94
The Fine Art Society, London, where acquired by the present owner, 31st May 2005


London, Dorien Leigh Gallery, Drawings by Paul Nash, November 1913, un-numbered exhibition, illustrated;
London, Tate, Paul Nash Paintings and Watercolours, 12th November - 28th December 1975, cat. no.17, illustrated p.54;
London, The Fine Art Society, Ravilious in Context, 2002, cat. no.39;
London, The Fine Art Society, The Fine Art Society 2005: Paintings, Works on Paper, Sculpture, Furniture & Decorative Arts, 24th May - 30th June 2005, cat. no.29.


Andrew Causey, Paul Nash, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1980, pp.40, 44, 45, cat. no.37, illustrated pl.44;
James King, Interior Landscapes: A Life of Paul Nash, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1987, p.68;
Andrew Causey, Paul Nash: Landscape and the Life of Objects, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2013, p.20.

Catalogue Note

O dreaming trees, sunk in a swoon of sleep
What have ye seen in these mysterious places?
What images? What faces?
What unknown pageant thro’ these hollows moves
At night? What blood-fights have ye seen?
What scenes of life & death? What haunted loves?

(The Artist, untitled and undated poem written for Mercia Oakley circa 1909, quoted in Andrew Causey, Paul Nash , Claredon Press, Oxford 1980, p.28)

In the early works of Paul Nash, we see a connection with a distinguished line in British art that runs from William Blake to Samuel Palmer, on through Nash’s contemporaries Stanley Spencer and Edward Burra. All of these artists can at times in their career be considered ‘magic realists’ - working long before this idea was applied to the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie, they all found a distinctly ‘English Magic’ in the physical world around them.

Nash’s lyrical landscapes of 1910-1913 draw heavily on his uniquely sensitive response to nature, which held importance for him well beyond the simple appearance of the countryside. He was drawn to the natural world from his earliest experiences in Kensington Gardens, and in works such as A Dawn he imbues the scene with an underlying mysticism and energy. The elongated trees which tower over the riverbed, their shadows stretching across the grass, give the sensation of quiet mystery and an invisible presence. Nash ‘turned to landscape not for the landscape sake but for the “things behind,” the dweller in the innermost…’ (The Artist, letter to Gordon Bottomley, circa 1st August 1912, quoted in Abbott and Bertram, Poet and Painter, p.42), and in this small group of early drawings sought to convey the spirit and sense of history he felt from the land.

Trees formed a particularly important position within Nash’s relationship with the natural world. They take on human qualities in his art works and poetry, becoming symbols of strength, continuity, security, and in some cases ominous watchers, privileged observers of the world at night. As Nash wrote in a letter to English poet Gordon Bottomley: ‘I have tried …to paint trees as tho they were human beings…I sincerely love & worship trees & know they are people.’(The Artist, letter to Gordon Bottomley, quoted, ibid., p.42). In the present work, the trees are lofty, stately manifestations, their height and regular spacing defining a border which creates a void omniscient of the nave of a cathedral - a calm, quiet and otherworldly space.

A Dawn is one of a group of drawings of this period which originally contained figures, only to have this human presence expunged in the working process. Margaret Nash titled the present work and attributed its date to 1913, as it was not catalogued under a particular title or date during Nash’s lifetime. Andrew Causey notes however that the drawing’s unique pink colouring and the fact that a figure originally occupied a large portion of the composition, suggest it could be identified as the picture Nash describes to Bottomley in a letter dating to 1912: ‘I wonder if you like the pink picture. I tried to suggest that wonderful emotion that comes over one at dawn or sunset on some days when beauty is so great & overpowering that it simply beats you down. On those occasions I want to thank someone or something upon my knees & I think most people do; so I have drawn here a collosal [sic], kneeling figure upon a hill at sundown.’ (The Artist, letter to Gordon Bottomley, quoted, ibid., p.53).