Lost Paul Nash sculpture on display at Tate Britain

The surrealist piece is being shown alongside other important works from the artist in a comprehensive new exhibition

Tate Britain is currently hosting the exciting resurrection of one of the great lost artworks of the 20th century. Paul Nash's Moon Aviary (1937), last exhibited in 1942, is a surrealist sculpture composed of ivory, cedar, stone and bone. Found in pieces in an unassuming cardboard box in a London archive, it has been reassembled for the exhibition.

A prominent figure in British art, Paul Nash was a landscape artist noted for his role in the Modernist movement and appraised as a war artist due to his contribution during both world wars. Some of his paintings are concerned with conflict quite literally and feature soldiers slumped in fields and trenches. His moving work Totes Meer (1940-1941), which depicts the fractured metal of crashed fighter planes morphing into waves, is also on display.

Other works are more concerned with nature, particularly the lunar calendar. Famously inspired by Britain's coastal areas and the Berkshire Downs, Nash was fascinated by the moon - the circular motif reoccurs throughout his artwork. In the 1930s, he moved from decorative paintings to a more abstract style, culminating with landscape scenes filled with heaving angular structures. It is this exploration of shape that is notable in all his work.

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Moon Aviary, commonly thought to have been lost or destroyed, is a key feature of the Tate's retrospective show. The piece has a relationship with one of Nash's earlier paintings, Mansions of the Dead (1932), whose ethereal name refers to the winged creatures in the piece, which are thought to portray souls. The intensely surreal scene is made all the more abstract by the framework and panelling in the forefront, with a glimpse of realistic blue sky peeking through. The later sculpture is composed of a series of shelves adorned with bobbins, which are thought to represent perching birds. Moon Aviary is exhibited alongside several other reassembled pieces, making this the largest exhibition of its kind involving Nash's work for some time.

The exhibition also features a double-sided painting: one side shows Circle of the Monoliths (1936-1937), easily one of Nash's most surreal works and one that has never been publically exhibited, and, on the reverse, The Two Serpents (1929).

Paul Nash is at Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG until 5 March 2017; tate.org.uk

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