PAUL NASH (1889 - 1946)


Sketch Design for Act II of the Lady from the Sea, 1922

Pencil and ink on thin laid paper
Monogram in ink lower right
Inscribe on support sheet 'Sketch design for Act II of The Lady from the Sea'
24 x 28.5 cm; 17.5 x 23 (paper size)

Dr Andrew Causey

In the years following his service in the Great War, Paul Nash was determined to continue his career as an artist but struggled with periodic bouts of depression. After a visit to his ill father in 1921 Nash suffered a severe breakdown, diagnosed as ‘war strain.’ In order to convalesce the artist with his wife Margaret, rented a cottage on the Kent coast at Dymchurch. Nash formed a deep attachment to the location and its environs which were to preoccupy his work until 1925.

The recurring images of lonely figures on barren promenades and sea walls used by Nash in his Dymchurch paintings were absorbed into a group of theatre designs for Ibsen’s play The Lady from the Sea (1888). This symbolic play is centred on a lady called Ellida, the daughter of a lighthouse-keeper, who grew up where the fjords meets the sea; in a reflection of his own mental state Nash turns the promenade into a claustrophobic deck facing the sea - a ‘Dymchurch drama’. Two other designs for the play are in the magnificent Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts held in the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio including A Platform Facing the Sea, 1920 (Causey 307).

“Hermon Ould, reviewing the exhibition [International Theatre Exhibition, 1922, V&A and touring] in the Manchester Guardian, singled out A Platform Facing the Sea:  ‘Nash…really seems to be reaching out towards something new. Today it [stage design] is known to be of all the arts the most kinetic. Nash in some of his work seems to have grasped this, and his Platform Facing the Sea attains to the rhythmic dynamism characteristic of the best Continental work’. Nash would have liked the word kinetic, since it was the idea of repeated movement, pressures and exchanges he was trying to pin down in his early Dymchurch pictures. The forces impressing themselves on the tiny figures that appear in many of the drawings are invisible, but there is a feeling that this barren world is a difficult and unfriendly one.”
Andrew Causey, Paul Nash, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980

Nash worked on other theatre designs inspired partly through his respect for the work of Edward Gordon Craig and also his friendship with Claude Lovat Fraser, other projects included Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hermon Ould’s play Black Virgin.


Paul Nash: Sketch Design for Act II of the Lady from the Sea