Joseph Nash’s career began in 1827 when he was apprenticed to the artist, architectural draughtsman and writer Augustus Charles Pugin. Pugin took him to France to make drawings for his work Paris and its Environs, published in 1830. Under Pugin’s tutelage Nash learned the art of architectural drawing and also experimented with lithography.

Once Joseph Nash began his independent career, he moved from purely architectural to more picturesque works. He developed his interest in lithography, collaborating with Charles Joseph Hullmandel. Hullmandel had developed a technique which involved applying graded washes of ink: this made engravings look much closer to watercolours. Joseph Nash worked with watercolour himself and was a member of the Society of Painters in Water Colours.

This was a period when the fashion for romantic historical works, encouraged by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, led many artists to look again at the depiction of historic houses. Nash’s fresh approach was apparent in his four-volume Mansions of England in the Olden Time which appeared between 1839 and 1849.

The Mansions of England contained 100 lithographs of country houses from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries that had survived into Victorian times. Nash travelled all over the country, sketching each mansion on site. He reproduced interior and architectural detail faithfully. But to give his engravings additional interest, he enlivened them with scenes from Tudor and Stuart daily life.

The writer Thomas Carlyle noted that Walter Scott's fiction had, 'taught all men ... that the bygone ages of the world were actually filled with living men, not by protocols, state papers, controversies and abstractions of men'. Joseph Nash can be seen as a follower of Scott as well as Pugin. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that as a watercolourist, Nash took subjects from Shakespeare’s plays, Scott’s own novels, and Cervantes’s A-328
Don Quixote.
Nash’s watercolours attracted some favourable comments in The Athenaeum and The Spectator when they reviewed the Society’s exhibitions. But Thackeray dismissed Nash’s work as that of ‘a miniature scene-painter.’
There are a good many engravings by Joseph Nash in the British Museum, and the Royal Collection. And there’s also one Nash watercolour in the V&A showing a scene from Ivanhoe. But a lot of Joseph Nash’s work in watercolours seems to have vanished.

Sigmund & Jocelyn have twenty-four drawings by Joseph Nash, probably taken from one of the artist’s sketchbooks. They appear to be preliminary studies for watercolours of biblical and historical scenes, or dramatic moments from Shakespeare plays.  Although the drawings are small and intimate, this is work in which the human figures take centre and stage – and the themes and emotions are large.

In one Cordelia leans towards Lear, her unseeing father, with tender anxiety. In another, which we think is based on the parable of the Prodigal Son, a bearded man opens forgiving arms to embrace a youth. But the young man is bowed down, unable to look him in the eye.

We don’t know which of Nash’s paintings provoked Thackeray’s A-320
disparaging comment. But there is certainly grandeur in these sketches.

Seven of our Nash drawings can be found on the Gallery section of this wsite. But we’re going be featuring the entire twenty-four on our Facebook page, as an alternative Advent Calendar. So do visit us there in the coming weeks!

Alan Bean & Sibyl Ruth