Unearthing Modernism in the Strata of Antiquity: Paul Nash and the Deep Past

Sarah Fill

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines antiquity as a vital component in the relationship of modern art and national identity in 1930s Britain. To exemplify the reinterpretation of antiquity within British modernist art, I focus on the work of the painter Paul Nash (1889-1946) and his engagement with the early-modern polymath Thomas Browne (1605-1682) and the eighteenth-century antiquarian William Stukeley (1687-1765). Browne and Stukeley used the past as a means to muse, in the terms of religion and mythology, upon the present. In turn they revitalised antiquity by investing it with their own imaginations. I argue that Nash revitalised the past in a manner akin to Browne and Stukeley, although he did not do this with the religious spirit of the early modern period but reconstructed it through the building blocks of continental modernism. I argue that Nash’s engagement with antiquarianism helped form a critique of the archaeological practice he witnessed at Avebury and Maiden Castle in the mid 1930s. While the science-orientated discipline of archaeology participated in the death of myth, Browne and Stukeley formed part of mythology’s long narrative tradition. I examine how Nash’s landscapes also formed part of this tradition and I consider the paintings’ relationships to the mythic aspects of interwar modernism.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Townsend, Christopher, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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