We Are Making a New World: The Great War Work of Paul Nash

Student First Name: 
Taylor
Student Last Name: 
Soja
Student Picture: 
Taylor Soja at GW Research Day
Project Picture: 
Taylor Soja's research poster
Expected Year of Graduation: 
2015
Department/Major: 
History
Student Team Members: 
NA
Mentor(s): 
Professor Jennifer Green-Lewis, Department of English and Professor Dane Kennedy, Department of History
Other Team Members: 
none
Fun Fact About Yourself: 
The majority of this research was conducted in London during the summer of 2014. I spent five weeks in the archives of the Tate Gallery and the Imperial War Museum thanks to a Luther Rice Research Fellowship.
Project Abstract: 

Paul Nash (1889‐1946) is best known as a leading English surrealist painter, but he began his career and gained early fame as one of the many officially commissioned British “war artists” of the First World War. The purpose of this study is to assess Nash’s role as an official artist and to consider the effects of the war on his personal development as a painter and art theorist. In order to bring Nash’s personal reactions and opinions to bear on the public record left by his officially commissioned paintings, his private papers housed in the Tate Gallery Archives were considered in conjunction with his paintings that were displayed by the Imperial War Museum during the First World War Centenary. Key paintings used in the study include “The Menin Road,” “We Are Making a New World,” and “Spring in the Trenches: Ridgewood, 1917.” The research displays Nash’s steady progression from an enthusiastic and optimistic soldier with a passion for landscapes into a disillusioned and disturbed individual expressing his horror at the realities of the Great War. Early evidence of Nash’s surrealist style invites obvious connections with his own later post‐war experiences of shell shock and subsequent hospitalization. The status of “official” war artist is also explored, and an historical investigation into the war artist’s program reveals Nash’s place among his peers.

Although this research establishes a basis for the experimental and sometimes shocking projects that Nash undertook later in his career, it also reveals his devotion to the tradition of English landscape painting. Despite the fact that Nash is often categorized as a modernist, the persistent presence of the landscape tradition in his work reveals a tension that questions the myth of modern progress while simultaneously questioning the validity of the British tradition. Ultimately, this study reveals Nash’s war paintings in their personal and cultural context, and provides a new lens through which to consider the early career of arguably the most significant surrealist painter of his generation.