Christopher Nevinson, the son of Henry Nevinson, the radical journalist, and Margaret Nevinson, an activist in the campaign for women’s rights, was born in London in 1889. His parents causes were at the time so unpopular that Christopher remembers as a child being booed by neighbours while walking along the street.
In 1907 Nevinson went to the St John’s Wood School of Art, but later transferred to the Slade School where he met Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler. One of his teachers, Henry Tonks, told Nevinson he lacked the talent to become an artist.
After leaving the Slade School Nevinson worked as a journalist and artist in Paris where he became an important figure in the French avant garde. In 1911 Nevinson discovered Cubism which had a lasting influence on his work.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Nevinson, as a pacifist, refused to become involved in combat duties, and volunteered instead to work for the Red Cross. Sent to France in 1914, Nevinson worked as a driver, stretcher-bearer and hospital orderly. Later he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and helped nurse soldiers being treated at the Third General Hospital in London. After contacting rheumatic fever in January, 1916, he was invalided out of the army.
While recuperating, Nevinson painted a series of paintings based on his experiences in France. An exhibition of his work in September, 1916, brought him to the attention of Charles Masterman, head of the government’s War Propaganda Bureau (WPB). In 1917 the WPB sent Nevinson to the Western Front where he painted another sixty pictures.
Nevinson’s most famous war painting is Machine-Gun. One critic wrote: “the hard lines of the machinery dictate those of the robotised soldiers who become as one with the killing machine.” Another pointed out that: “the painting translates the mechanical aspect of modern warfare where man and machine combine to form a single force of nature”. Other war paintings by Nevinson include Paths of Glory, The Harvest of Battle, Marching Men, A Group of Soldiers, Troops Resting and The Road from Arras to Bapaume.
Nevinson was unhappy with his work as a member of War Propaganda Bureau. He shared the feelings of Paul Nash who wrote at the time: “I am no longer an artist. I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls.” Some of Nevinson’s paintings such as Paths of Glory, were considered to be unacceptable and were not exhibited to after the Armistice.
After the war Nevinson concentrated on painting townscapes and genre pictures. He published his autobiography, Paint and Prejudice in 1937 and two years later was elected an ARA. Nevinson became a war artist in the Second World War but his career came to an end when he had a severe stroke in 1942. Christopher Nevinson died in 1946.
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