Joseph Nash, OWS (1809-1878) Joseph Nash gathered together his skills as architectural draughtsman, genre painter and lithographer to produce his highly popular and influential publication, The Mansions of England in Olden Time (1839-49). Joseph Nash was born in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, on 17 December 1809. He was the eldest son of Okey Nash, who took holy orders and became the proprietor of the Manor House School, North End, Croydon. Joseph Nash was educated at the school, but ‘showed his bent by covering his lesson books with sketches’ (Roget 1891, vol 2, p 242).
In about 1827, Nash entered the architect’s office of Augustus Charles Pugin, at 105 (now 106) Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London, in order to learn the art of architectural drawing. Two years later, he and his fellow apprentices accompanied Pugin on a trip to France to produce drawings for Paris and its Environs (1830). Becoming interested, and then skilled, in lithography, he also prepared Pugin’s drawings for Views Illustrative of the Examples of Gothic Architecture (1830).
After his marriage to ‘a lady of property’ in 1831, Nash developed as a painter and illustrator of genre, contributing to keepsake annuals and exhibiting at the Society of Painters in Water Colours, of which he became an associate in 1834.
However, following in the tradition of Pugin, Nash became best known for ‘recreating the original state of old buildings and peopling them with picturesque tableaux’ (Peter Mandler, in Matthew and Harrison 2004, vol 40, p 222). He established this reputation in 1838 with Architecture of the Middle Ages: drawn from nature and on stone; this folio of twenty-five lithographs featured English and French ecclesiastical buildings of the late Gothic and Renaissance periods.
A year later, in 1839, Nash embarked on his four-volume magnum opus, The Mansions of England in the Olden Time. He toured the country in order to sketch both the exteriors and interiors of many of the surviving country houses of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. He also researched the social life of the same period, by reading the writings of the antiquarian, Joseph Strutt, in order to populate his images of buildings with appropriate figures. The highly Romantic results comprised 100 lithographs, the quality of which reflected Nash’s collaboration with Charles Joseph Hullmandel, the pioneering lithographer.
Nash’s plates for The Mansions of England proved extremely influential, especially from their authorised appearance as engravings in the Saturday Magazine, and on their subsequent unauthorised appearance in other periodicals. They provided a source for architects and affected the popularity of certain tourist sites, even being reproduced on advertising placards. However, William Makepeace Thackeray dismissed Nash as ‘a miniature scene-painter’ in preference to George Cattermole, a rival painter of historical genre (Fraser’s Magazine, 1839, vol 19, p 749, as cited by Peter Mandler).
The project brought Nash more esteem than wealth, though it also attracted further commissions. So following his election to full membership of the Society of Painters in Water Colours, in 1842, he translated drawings by the late David Wilkie into lithographs (Sketches in Turkey, Syria & Egypt…, 1843 and Sketches, Spanish & Oriental…, 1846), and produced Views of the Interior and Exterior of Windsor Castle (1848) under royal patronage. Eventually, in 1849, he was able to bring work on The Mansions of England to a close.
Gradually withdrawing from public attention, Nash suffered from an attack of brain fever in 1854, and sold the contents of his studio at the end of that year. However, while accusing the Society of Painters in Water Colours of neglecting his work, and that of his son, he continued to produce and exhibit drawings until the end of his life. He died a widower at home, at 84 Hereford Road, Kensington, on 19 December 1878. His son and a daughter survived him.
His work is represented in The Royal Collection, and numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A.