On leaving the Slade he befriended the Italian Futurist Marinetti, a meeting that had a profound effect on the development of his artistic canon. Together they published the first English Futurist manifesto in June of 1914.
On the 28th of July war broke out, a four-year period that both challenged Nevinson mentally and as an artist. He volunteered for the Red Cross in the autumn of 1914 and although medically discharged in 1916, he returned to the front in 1917 as an artist attached to the Bureau of information.
It was in 1917 that Nevinson produced perhaps his most famous work (a work regarded as a tour de force of both the Vorticist and Futurist manifesto). ‘Returning to the Trenches’ portrays a “mass of inseparable, marching soldiers, grimly driving and being driven on. Although there is no obvious force that moves them on – legs and arms are lost in movement – equally there is no means of let-up or escape. The contrast with the happy marching men of contemporary recruiting posters is striking and emphasizes the dread of Nevinson’s imagery.
Other notable wartime images are his group of 6 lithographs relating to ‘Britain’s War Efforts and Ideals’, ‘Twilight’, ‘Ypres After First Bombardment’, ‘On the Road to Ypres’ A flooded Trench at Yser’ and ‘The Road from Arras to Bapaume’.
On returning from the war Nevinson suffered great mental unrest an affliction that inspired three of his most atmospheric post war works. ‘From an Office Window’, ‘Wind’ and ‘Limehouse.’ During this period he utilized the medium of Mezzotint because he found it the most expressive. With specific reference to ‘Wind’: the subject of the wind violently swirling around is undoubtedly relates to his emotional anguish.
By 1919 he had abandoned futurism and dedicated his artistic talents to a more traditional vision portraying the urban landscapes of Paris, New York and London. Despite a formal detachment with futurism his post war pieces fuse a lingering love of Futurist angularity with a new respect for naturalistic observation.
Nevinson was at his best when dealing with the dynamism and vertiginous scale of big-city life. In later years he concentrated more on pastoral scenes and flower pieces, where a gentler mood prevailed.