Remarkable works never before exhibited in London are on show at Ben Uri
s major new exhibition reassessing the career of David Bomberg.
Works from major institutions including Arts Council England, Tate, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Pallant House Gallery and The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts are on show alongside works from important private collections and from Ben Uris extensive collection of Bombergs works.
A new monograph, the first for 30 years, by Ben Uri and Bomberg curators Rachel Dickson and Sarah MacDougall is now available in hard and soft back.
More than 40 works representing each significant periods of Bombergs oeuvre make up the exhibition.
Key themes of the largely chronological exhibition include:
Bombergs Jewish background and engagement with Yiddish culture
His contribution to pre-war British modernism
His role as a war artist in both world wars
His work as a graphic artist and his exposure in contemporaneous little magazines
His Jerusalem Landscapes
His self-portraiture and portraiture of friends and family
His mature achievements as a landscape painter in Spain, Cyprus and Britain.
David Bomberg (1890-1957) was born in Birmingham to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents. He spent his formative years in Londons East End among his fellow Whitechapel Boys which remains a principal focus of Ben Uri.
The influence of his early evening-class tutor Walter Sickert is reflected in Bombergs Bedroom Picture (1911-12, private collection) which was later re-worked as the Vorticist-influenced At the Window (1919, Ben Uri Collection). Both works are included in the exhibition and are an example of a pairing or re-working that is one of its major themes.
David Bomberg and Ben Uri histories have been intertwined since the museum was the first public institution to recognise the importance of his radical oeuvre and purchased his works initially in 1920 and regularly thereafter.
At the Slade School of Art, as part of the so-called Crisis of Brilliance generation, Bomberg was regarded as a disturbing influence.
An early innovator with stylistic similarities to the English Vorticists, he established crucial contacts with the European avant-garde and, in 1914, co-curated with Jacob Epstein a Jewish Section in the exhibition Twentieth- century Art: A Review of Modern Movements at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.
He held his first, critically acclaimed, solo show in London the same year.
In this period Bomberg sought a new and radical language to articulate his Jewish East End heritage and culture. They are expressed in early master works such as Ju-Jitsu (c. 1913, Tate), observed at his brothers East End gym and reflecting the artists fractured experience as the son of Polish immigrants. The exhibition will show a rare study for this Ju-Jitsu courtesy of the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts.
Bombergs harrowing service in the trenches during the First World War was compounded by a disastrous experience as a commissioned war artist (Study for Sappers at Work, 1918-19, Tate); his post-war disillusionment was expressed in the masterly Ghetto Theatre (1920, Ben Uri Collection).
In 1923 Bomberg travelled to Jerusalem and, on expeditions to Jericho, Petra and the Wadi Kelt, produced a series of detailed, realistic landscapes which evolved from a tightly topographical style into a looser, characteristically expressionistic style. This series heralded the painterly achievements of Bombergs final years, despite a series of disappointments including a difficult Second World War commission as a war artist.
Following his visit to Spain in 1929, a renewed vigour entered Bombergs work. This resulted in the fulfilment of the early promise in his maturity, particularly as a compelling, powerful creator of landscapes both in the UK and in Spain.