Sunday, 19 December 2010

John Nash & lithography

I hadn't intended to post anymore this year but as my flight was cancelled yesterday, here I am back to British, and this time the painter and printmaker, John Nash (1893 - 1977). Many years before he came to lithography - or rather before lithography came to him - he was advised by his elder brother Paul not to bother with art school and perhaps his lack of formal training shows. He wasn't high-minded and tried all kinds of things - painting, illustration, wood-engraving - but there is something just a touch amateurish about his whimsicality. What I like about some of his botanical illustrations is this: he was both botanist and gardener and he takes it seriously.

The travel poster lithographs of the 1920's were followed by the illustrations of the 1930s (although people like MacKnight Kauffer also used lithography for book illustration earlier on). At the top is one of four lithographs from Batsford's Wild Flowers in Britain, 1938. As it went into at least three editions, it is still inexpensive and widely available in the UK. The image above is from another book in the series, Wild Animals in Britain. This is the evocative back cover - only the dust sheets are lithographs. Not quite so easy to come across.

Alot harder to find (but very rewarding if you do) is this Country Life calendar. Of all his printed work, I think this comes closest to the style of his paintings and makes it particularly attractive to own. I also think the card cover suits lithography more than the paper of the later School Print series. The colours are stronger than in my photo. (This was one of my very best finds!) As you can see, it has ring binding; less obvious is the astonishing fact that Nash received no credit. I wonder if Eric Ravilious got a mention for his work the previous year.

The two School Prints he made for the Baynard Press in the early 1940s are still both available but no longer cheap. Some are also signed. The one above is 'Window Plants'. Despite the rather cosy atmosphere it does remain a very true image of British life. You can still walk down suburban roads and see elderly women sitting beyond rows of the very same potted plants.

What is common to all these images that could be inexpensively produced and made available was a sense of common recording - of both the natural world and different ways of life. Nash's great strength was that he approached the national recording project with knowledge and affection for the subjects. His spurge laurel (daphne laureola) is succinct if not quite in time with his lily of the valley and his real liking for the plant is proven by this being only one attempt he made. (The photo doesn't really get across the sense of scale and pattern across the page and the texture of the print.)
'Harvesting' is the other poster for the Baynard Press. The human and animal interest is provided for school children and their teachers. 'Alot going off' as they say, which was not always true of other prints in the series. For my money, his were some of the most memorable.
The image below is the back cover for 'Wild Flowers', just as beautifully organised as the poster and eqaually executed with the real concern of the adoptive countryman (The family decamped to Buckinghamshire from a west London mansion block and Nash himself went to live in Suffolk in 1945).

Much less well known than the other posters is the one he made for the Lyons tea rooms series. They were intended to brighten up the places left undecorated during war time. In an image like this intended to provide immediate interest, you see what he had in common with his contemporaries Stanley Spencer and Claughton Pellew.

Also with a stronger range of colour, this illustration for Julian Bell's 'Men and the fields'. Well known but sadly not on my bookshelves. The little landscapes and rural episodes provided too much of an opportunity for picture framing, I fear. Also published by Batsford and lithographed by the famous Curwen Press. I don't know whether or not Curwen produced the other illustations for Batsford but all these things are well-worth the search.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely to see the unassuming Nash brother get his due.