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A watercolour of Maiden Castle. It is signed Paul Nash in brown ink at the lower left. Indistinctly inscribed with colour notes in pencil at the lower right centre. This magnificent late watercolour of Maiden Castle in Dorset was drawn in the early 1940’s, at a time when Nash seems to have preferred watercolour to oil for his landscapes. Maiden Castle is an Iron Age hill fort – one of the largest and most complex hill forts in Europe – situated near the town of Dorchester in Dorset. Nash was greatly inspired by Maiden Castle, a place he adored and venerated. He photographed the site in 1935, when it was being excavated by Dr. Mortimer Wheeler, and wrote about it in his text for the Dorset Shell Guide, published in 1936: ‘Maiden Castle has been described as the largest and most perfect earthwork in the world. To say it is the finest in Dorset is, perhaps, enough, for in no part of any country, I believe – not even in Wiltshire, where Avebury stands – can be found so complete a sequence of hill architecture…The Maiden…is in the form of an irregular oval. Its measurements are 400 yards wide and 900 yards long. The outer circumference amounts to two miles, enclosing an area of 130 acres. It is a phenomenon which must be seen to be believed if you consider that it was constructed throughout a series of occupations, the earliest of which can be ascribed to a period approaching 2000 B.C. Its presence to-day, after the immense passage of time, is miraculously undisturbed; the huge contours strike awe into even the most vulgar mind; the impervious nitwits who climbed on to the monoliths of Stonehenge to be photographed, slink out of the shadow of the Maiden uneasily.’

This fine watercolour dates from Nash’s trip to Dorset with his friend Lance Sieveking in September 1943. Sieveking was a Regional Programme Director for the BBC, with Dorset one of the five counties for which he was responsible, and he asked Nash – who had written the Dorset Shell Guide several years earlier – to accompany him on a tour of the county. Together they visited Maiden Castle, Chalbury, Cerne Abbas, Dorchester and the Isle of Portland. In his autobiography, published in 1957, Sieveking recalled that they travelled ‘back and forth, across that beautiful county, in sunny days and warm clear nights, stopping ever and again for Paul to draw, to make notes, to take photographs, and to scan the distance through powerful field-glasses. He said that through field-glasses one sees a landscape that one can see in no other way.’ Shortly after their return, Nash wrote to Sieveking that ‘Looking back over the great voyage to the hills and the heaths and the sea, it seems all a dream but most favourably a dream remembered – and so incredibly varied – I shall never quite get over it…I am pleased with my drawings and have hopes of making something from them.’

A slightly smaller preparatory pencil study for this composition, formerly in the collection of the Nash Trust, appeared at auction in 1986. Nash had visited the site of Maiden Castle several years earlier, in 1935, and two earlier watercolour views of the grass-covered hill fort are known; one in a private collection and the other in the Robert Hull Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont.

Details

  • Title: Watercolour of Maiden Castle, Dorset
  • Creator: Paul Nash (1889-1946)
  • Date Created: 1943
  • Location: Private Collection, London
  • Physical Dimensions: 289 x 403 mm. (11 3/8 x 15 7/8 in.)
  • Provenance: Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, in November 1943 Jeffrey Dell, by 1948; His sale, London, Sotheby’s, 3 April 1963, lot 129; Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, in 1963; Commander Sir Michael Culme-Seymour, 5th Bt., Rockingham, Northamptonshire and nr. Bridport, Dorset
  • Type: Watercolour
  • Original Source: Stephen Ongpin, Fine Art, London
  • Rights: Private Collection, London
  • External Link: Maiden Castle
  • Medium: Watercolour, red chalk and pencil on paper.
  • Photographer: Stephen Ongpin, Fine Art, London
  • Maker: Paul Nash
  • Credit line: Private Collection, London

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