Bomberg, David, 1890-1957

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1890-12-05
Death 1957-08-19
Britons

Biographical notes:

David Bomberg was born in Birmingham in December 1890. His father, Abraham Bomberg, was a Jewish leather-worker from Poland who moved with his family from Birmingham to Whitechapel in East London in 1895. Abraham Bomberg and his first wife, Rebecca, née Klein, had eleven children, including Kitty (later Newmark) (born 1902), who remained closest to David Bomberg in later years. Around 1906 David Bomberg became the apprentice of a lithographer and attended Walter Sickert's evening classes in art at Westminster School between 1908 and 1910. Having broken his indentures to become an artist, in 1911 he entered the Slade School of Art in London with a loan from the Jewish Education Aid Society. There he won a number of awards, including a prize for drawing. Already familiar with recent developments in European art he travelled to Paris with Jacob Epstein to borrow modern works for an exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1913. After leaving the Slade David Bomberg showed work in `The Camden Town Group and Others' exhibition at Brighton City Art Galleries in December 1913. Two major works influenced by Cubism and Futurism, `In the Hold' (1913/1914) and `The Mud Bath' (1914) (both now in the Tate Gallery), were painted at this time and the latter shown at his first one-man exhibition at the Chenil Galleries in London in July 1914. In 1914 David Bomberg was one of the founder-members of the London Group (he was made an honorary life member in 1957). Remaining independent of Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists David Bomberg nevertheless exhibited in a non-members section at the Vorticist exhibition at the Doré Galleries in London in 1915. During the First World War Bomberg enlisted in the Royal Engineers and was transferred to the 18th King's Royal Rifles. In 1917 he was commissioned to produce a painting, `Sappers at Work', for the Canadian War Memorials Fund. The first version, which drew on the geometrical abstraction of most of his pre-war work, was rejected, but a second, more conventional picture, was accepted for the National Gallery of Canada. After the war David Bomberg declined an invitation from his friend the architect Robert van't Hoff to join De Stijl in Holland. In September 1919 an exhibition of his ink-wash drawings was shown at the Adelphi Gallery in London and the Mansard Gallery held an exhibition of his drawings in March 1923. In April 1923 David Bomberg travelled to Jerusalem with financial support from the Palestine Foundation Fund and at the recommendation of Sir Muirhead Bone (1876/1953). He made a six-month visit to Petra in the following year. While in the Middle East David Bomberg painted more naturalistic landscapes than might have been expected from his pre-war work. Following his return to London works from Palestine and Petra were exhibited with critical success at the Leicester Galleries in February 1928 and, four months later, in the artist's London studio. In February 1929 similar works were also exhibited at the Ruskin Gallery in Birmingham. David Bomberg first visited Spain in August 1929 and painted for the most part in Toledo. He returned to Spain in 1934, visiting the Asturias, Cuenca, and the town of Ronda in Andalucia. Civil unrest forced his return to England late in 1935. An exhibition of `Sixty Imaginative Compositions, Spanish and Scottish Landscapes and Other Works' was held at the Bloomsbury Gallery in London in November 1932, and, in June 1936, an exhibition of `Recent Paintings of Spain' was shown at the Cooling Galleries. In January 1937 David Bomberg held a retrospective exhibition at the Foyle Art Gallery together with Horace Brodzky and Margarete Hamerschlag. He joined the Communist Party in 1933, with the encouragement of his sister Kitty and her husband, James Newmark, but resigned his membership after spending six months in the Soviet Union, in December 1933. During the Second World War David Bomberg made numerous unsuccessful applications for teaching posts. In 1942 he received a commission from the War Artists' Advisory Committee to paint a bomb store in Burton-on-Trent but his finished painting did not meet with the approval of the committee. The last one-man show held during Bomberg's lifetime was an `Exhibition of Imaginative Compositions' at the Leger Gallery in November 1943. DB eventually found part-time employment as a teacher of drawing at the Bartlett School of Architecture (1945/49) and, with considerable success, at the Borough Polytechnic, between 1945 and 1953. His pupils included Frank Auerbach, Cliff Holden, Leon Kossoff, Leslie Marr, Dorothy Mead, and Gustav Metzger. Various exhibitions were organized by two groups of young artists inspired by Bomberg's teaching and by his expressionist approach to painting; the Borough Group (1947-50) and the Borough Bottega (1953-55). For four years (from 1948) David Bomberg abandoned painting, though he continued to work as an art teacher. In May and June 1954 he had a retrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings at the Heffer Gallery in Cambridge, together with works by members of the Borough Bottega. In 1952 David Bomberg's proposal to establish a school in Spain to study mass in architecture failed through lack of funding. He returned to Ronda in 1954 and painted there until May 1957, concentrating on landscapes. Like William Roberts (1895/1980), a contemporary at the Slade, David Bomberg was angered by his inclusion in the exhibition of Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism held at the Tate Gallery from July to August 1956. In 1957 he produced a substantial body of writings taking issue with its view of the pre-war London art world and protesting at the lengthy critical neglect which he had suffered. He also drafted a number of letters on the same subject to William Roberts and to `The Times'. David Bomberg became ill while in Ronda and died shortly after his return to London in August 1957. Bomberg married Alice Mayes (1880-1973) in 1916, but they separated in 1927 and were eventually divorced in 1941. In 1941 he married Lilian Mendelson, née Holt, who had a daughter, Dinora (later Davies-Rees) (born 1924), from her previous marriage to the art dealer Jacob Mendelson. The couple had one child, Diana (1935/74). Lilian B accompanied DB on most painting expeditions and played an important part in furthering and protecting his posthumous reputation. She assisted with exhibitions of his work, subsidized the publication of William C. Lipke's biography, `David Bomberg: A Critical Study of his Life and Work' (1967), and preserved printed material and press cuttings on his work. Works by David Bomberg may be found in the collections of the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and in most English provincial galleries. He is also represented in a number of museums in Australia and Israel.

From the guide to the Correspondence, writings, papers, photographs, printed material, and press cuttings of the English painter David Garshen Bomberg (1890-1957) and his second wife Lilian Bomberg, née Holt (1898-1983), 1884-1987, (Tate Gallery Archive)

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