Updated: Apr 20, 2020
I have never been one to truly get lost in a landscape painting. No matter how well done, or impressive. Nature just doesn't usually do it for me. I understand that others may have vastly different experiences when scanning through the many great representations of natural landscape in history. However, my numbness to nature caused me to go years without appreciating Oppy Wood, 1917. It is truly a travesty that the above work by John Nash has slipped my radar. Boy, am I glad I found it! No promises, but I may be a landscape guy now. Maybe.
John Nash was an untrained painter working in the time following World War I in which he fought. The painting depicts the war trenches dug on the Western Front. Present in many of Nash's works is the mundane moments wedged in between brutal battles. It is possibly the human ties to the location and the historical context of this painting that captivates me more the common landscape void of humanity.
In the painting we see two soldiers presumably of differing ranks performing the common duties of war. Looking out over the edge of one of many trenches built by the English forces. Surrounded by bare tree trunks and otherwise baron landscape. Above is a striking blue sky with majestic cloud forms mimicking the posture of the trees surrounding the trench.
While the painting captures a surprisingly pretty moment, we know looking back that these moments were few and far between in throughout the course of battle in World War I. With the added weight of historical context we are aware of both the human cost and natural cost of the first World War. All of the sudden the trenches start to feel more like a mass grave that the soldiers had spent weeks digging for themselves. The dark voids through the doorway of the dugouts become just that. A blackhole sucking in the beauty of this fleeting peaceful moment until it is just a memory. We as a viewer more than 100 years later want to warn the soldiers pictures of what is to come. We are aware of the fight that would ensue while he gazes out looking for the threat. Only to all be distracted from the horrors of war even if just for an instant, by the big blue sky.