David Bomberg 1890 - 1947
The way in which Bomberg reduces the human figure to a series of geometric shapes may reflect his fascination with the machine age, which he shared with the Futurists and Vorticists. This painting could also represent the human form, stripped to its essential core. The scene is based on steam baths near Bomberg’s home in east London, which were used by the local Jewish population and which also had religious associations. They were, perhaps, a place for both physical and spiritual cleansing.
[Tate Gallery Caption for The Mud Bath 1914]
Under the influence of the March 1912 London exhibition of Italian Futurists that exposed him to the dynamic abstraction of Picabia and Severini, and Fry's second Post Impressionist exhibition in October of the same year, which displayed the works of Picasso, Matisse and the Fauvists alongside those of Wyndham Lewis, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Bomberg's response became clear in paintings such as Vision of Ezekiel (1912), in which he proved 'he could absorb the most experimental European ideas, fuse these with Jewish influences and come up with a robust alternative of his own.'
Bomberg's dynamic angular representations of the human form, combining the geometrical abstraction of cubism with the energy of the Futurists, established his reputation as a forceful member of the avant-garde and the most audacious of his contemporaries; bringing him to the attention of Wyndham Lewis (who visited him in 1912) and Filippo Marinetti.
In 1913, the year in which he was expelled from the Slade because of the radicalism of his approach, he travelled to France with Jacob Epstein, where among others he met Modigliani, Derain and Picasso.
David Bomberg 1890 - 1947
1. Underground Bomb Store,
1942 by David Bomberg. Oil on paper, 555 x 730 mm. Maclaurin Art Collection. Purchased from Monika Kinley, London, representing the artist's widow. ©Estate of David Bomberg. Photograph ©The Maclaurin Trust. The work comes from a period when Bomberg served as a war artist.
2. Photograph of David Bomberg, c.1925.
Photographer unknown. Image in the public domain.
3. The Mud Bath, 1914, David Bomberg. Oil on Canvas, 1524 x 2242mm. The Tate Gallery, London,
4. David Bomberg (1890-1957). In the Cairngorms, late Summer. (Sold at Christie's for £61,250.)
5. Art Class at the Borough Polytechnic, London. ca 1947. Sarah Rose Collection, South Bank University, London.
6. The Stairway, 1919 David Bomberg. Pen and ink wash 203 X 254mm. David Bomberg Estate.
Exhibited David Bomberg, A Tribute to Lillian Bomberg, March 1985, Fischer Fine Art, London.
7. Robert Colquhoun 1914 -1962. Head of a Woman. Undated. Signed Colquhoun. 420 x 315mm. Watercolour on paper. Purchased from Mercury Gallery, Edinburgh, with a purchase grant from Local Museums Purchase Fund.
Provenance: Fine Art Society. Exhibited Mercury Gallery, Edinburgh Festival Exhibition 1983.
Any consideration of British Art in the 20th Century will take account of artists who were associated with or studied at the Slade School of Art in London. Indeed, when planning the exhibition programme for the gallery, artists with Slade associations were ensured a welcoming place at the Maclaurin, alongside key graduates of the Art Schools in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Slade and the school's alumni was seen as a seminal influence in the development of Art south of the Border.
Under Henry Tonks and his successors, the Slade was recognised as a key institution in the training of British artists and, when considering works from the earlier years of the 20th century, the Maclaurin Purchasing Committee kept a watching brief on some of the key artists associated with the school. These included Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, C.R.W. Nevinson, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Isaac Rosenberg among many others; some of these were featured in touring exhibitions shown at the gallery and it was felt, by some of the committee members, that they might be included in the collection if we were to reflect some of the key 'schools' in 20th Century British Art.
Bomberg was the most audacious painter of his generation at the Slade. His treatment of the human figure, in terms of angular, clear-cut forms charged with enormous energy, reveals his determination to bring about a drastic renewal in British painting.
The direction taken by his art brought him into contact with Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists, but Bomberg resisted Lewis's attempts to enlist him as a member of the movement.
Serendipity has a role in the collecting of art, particularly where the historical works are concerned. This painting came to the Maclaurin Art Collection almost by accident; it was discovered during a visit to Monika Kinley's London home to view a selection of Alan Davie prints. Mike Bailey, Collection Curator, was left to sort through a series of Davie's works in a store room at Kinley's home. In the store, he found a portfolio of works (mainly drawings) provided by the Bomberg's widow, Lillian. This collection included this very fine oil from the wartime years, one of the few framed works. The painting was acquired for the Maclaurin Collection ahead of a retrospective exhibition at Fischer Fine Art in 1985. Shown in London, that exhibition brought Bomberg's work to public attention and sale prices quadrupled almost overnight.
Clearly, the Underground Bombstore refers back to the sparse imagery of the Mud Bath. The Vorticist elements of this work are reflected in the paintings by Colquhoun and Macbryde also acquired for the Maclaurin Art Collection.
This work was championed and identified by Mike Bailey.
[Text based, in part, on Gallery records and personal recollections.]
David Bomberg 1890 - 1947
Born in December, 1890, of immigrant Polish-Jewish parents in the Lee Bank area of Birmingham, David Garshen Bomberg became a significant English painter, and one of the 'Whitechapel Boys'.
In 1895, his family moved to Whitechapel in the East End of London where he was to spend the rest of his childhood.
After studying art at City and Guilds, Bomberg went to Birmingham to train as a lithographer but soon returned to London to study under Walter Sickert at Westminster School of Art (1908 - 10). Sickert's emphasis on the study of form and the representation of the 'gross material facts' of urban life was an important early influence on Bomberg.
Bomberg's artistic studies had involved considerable financial hardship but in 1911, with the help of John Singer Sargent and the Jewish Education Aid Society, he was able to attain a place at the Slade School of Art. Here,
Bomberg was one of the most audacious of the exceptional generation of artists who studied under Henry Tonks.
The emphasis in teaching at the Slade was on technique and draughtsmanship to which Bomberg was well-suited — winning the Tonks Prize for his drawing of fellow student Rosenberg in 1911. But his own style was rapidly moving away from these traditional methods, particularly under the influence of the March 1912 London exhibition of Italian Futurists that exposed him to the dynamic abstraction of Picabia and Severini, and Fry's second Post Impressionist exhibition in October of the same year, which displayed the works of Picasso, Matisse and the Fauvists alongside those of Wyndham Lewis, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.
In the years immediately preceding the First World War, Bomberg painted a series of complex geometric compositions combining the influences of cubism and futurism; typically using a limited number of striking colours, turning humans into simple, angular shapes, and sometimes overlaying the whole painting a strong grid-work colouring scheme. He was expelled from the Slade School of Art in 1913, with agreement between the senior teachers Tonks, Frederick Brown and Philip Wilson Steer, because of the audacity of his breach from the conventional approach of that time.
After his expulsion from the Slade, Bomberg formed a series of loose affiliations with several groups involved with the contemporary English avant-garde, embarking on a brief and acrimonious association with the Bloomsbury Group's Omega Workshops before exhibiting with the Camden Town Group in December 1913. His enthusiasm for the dynamism and aesthetics of the machine age gave him a natural affinity with Wyndham Lewis's emerging vorticist movement, and five of his works featured in the founding exhibition of the London Group in 1914. But Bomberg remained staunchly independent and despite Lewis' attempts he never officially joined Vorticism. In July 1914 he refused involvement with the Vorticist literary magazine BLAST and in June of the following year his work featured only in the "Invited to show" section of the vorticist exhibition at London's Dore Gallery.
1914 saw the highpoint of Bomberg's early career — a solo exhibition at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea which attracted positive reviews from Roger Fry and T. E. Hulme and attracted favourable attention from experimental artists nationally and internationally. The exhibition featured several of Bomberg's early masterpieces, most notably The Mud Bath (1914), which was hung on an outside wall surrounded by Union Flags.
'I look upon Nature while I live in a steel city' he explained in the exhibition catalogue 'I APPEAL to a Sense of Form ... My object is the construction of Pure Form. I reject everything in painting that is not Pure Form.'
With the help of Augustus John, Bomberg sold two paintings from this exhibition to the influential American collector John Quinn.
With the advent of World War I, everything changed dramatically. By November 1915 Bomberg had enlisted in the Royal Engineers, and his harrowing experiences at the Front brought about a profound transformation in his outlook. Whether because his faith in the machine age had been shattered by his experiences as a private soldier in the trenches or because of the pervasive retrogressive attitude towards modernism in Britain, Bomberg moved to a more figurative style in the 1920s and his work became increasingly dominated by portraits and landscapes drawn from nature.
In radical opposition to the prevailing currents in avant-garde art, stimulated as these were by the enthusiasm for mechanization in Constructivism in Russia following the Revolution, Bomberg went to paint and draw in Palestine between 1923 and 1927, with the assistance of the Zionist Organization. There he brought together the geometric energies of his pre-war work as an 'English cubist' with the tradition of figurative observation of the English landscape school of Turner, Constable, Girtin and Cottman.
Throughout the 1930s Bomberg's art became broader and more impassioned as he sought to convey the essence of his response to landscapes in Scotland and Spain. This work met with little approval in Britain, and during World War II his outstanding series of Bomb Store paintings did not lead to further commissions from the War Artists Committee, despite his repeated requests.
During World War II, he painted Evening in the City of London (1944), showing the blitzed city viewed rising up to a triumphant, surviving St Paul's on the horizon, since described as the 'most moving of all paintings of wartime Britain' (Martin Harrison); a series of flower paintings saturated with turbulent feeling; and his single commission as a war artist, a series of 'Bomb Store' paintings (1942) expressing Bomberg's expanded first-hand sense of the destructive powers of modern technology in warfare. These 'Bomb Store' paintings convey a premonitory sense of the massive explosion that destroyed the underground store two years later, killing 68 people, and bear comparison with Piranesi's Carceri etchings.
Unable to get a teaching position after World War II in any of the most prestigious London art schools, Bomberg became the most exemplary teacher of the immediate post-war period in Britain, working part-time in a bakery school at the Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University) in the working-class borough of Southwark. Though his students received no grant and were awarded no diploma, he attracted devoted and highly energetic pupils, with whom he exhibited on an equal basis in London, Oxford, and Cambridge in two important artists' groupings in which he was the leading light, the Borough Group (1946–51) and the Borough Bottega (1953–55). Between 1945 and 1953, his pupils included Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Dennis Creffield.
His last years were darkened by the realization that his art remained overlooked and even belittled in Britain. His final landscapes and figure paintings include some of his most powerful works.
After his early success before the First World War, he was in his lifetime the most brutally excluded artist in Britain. Having lived for years on the earnings of his second wife Lilian Holt and remittances from his sister Kitty, he died in absolute poverty in 1957.
[Text based on articles by Richard Cork, A Dictionary of 20th Century Art, Tate Gallery records and an exhibition catalogue by Fischer Fine Art and other records in the public domain.]