Summer doesn’t have to have all the fun of the sizzle. This winter the revolutionary paintings of by the British modernist artist David Bomberg will be displayed alongside National Gallery pictures that had a great influence on him in a brand new exhibition.
Inspiration for a young radical
Called Young Bomberg and the Old Masters the exhibition will show nine outstanding Bomberg works together with paintings from the National Gallery which inspired him as a young radical growing up in London’s East End.
They include Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man (probably about 1480-5) and Studio of El Greco’s The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (1590s).
They will be shown near Bomberg’s monumental masterpiece The Mud Bath (1914, Tate), painted when he was only 23 years old. It echoes Michelangelo’s The Entombment (about 1500–1) in its composition and thrusting energy.
Other works by Bomberg include the dramatic Vision of Ezekiel (1912, Tate), inspired by the sudden death of his beloved mother Rebecca and the theme of the resurrection in the Old Testament; Ju-Jitsu (c.1913, Tate), a geometrical and fractured painting based on his brother’s East End gym; and the spectacular In the Hold (c.1913–14, Tate), where dockers appear to be unloading migrant adults and children from a ship.
These Bomberg paintings will be shown with their preparatory drawings as well as his bold Self Portrait (1913–14, National Portrait Gallery) and the highly controversial first version of his war painting Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company, Hill 60, St Eloi (c.1918-19, Tate).
The exhibition is curated by award-winning art critic and historian Richard Cork, who will draw illuminating parallels between Bomberg’s early works and other National Gallery paintings which may have impacted on his compositions.
The show will reveal how Bomberg embraced the art of the past in order to leap forward and contribute to the language of early 20th-century Modernism at its most audacious.
Youthful art pushed to its limits
Hailed in 1914 as one of the most daring and original painters of his generation, Bomberg pushed his youthful art to its limits. If these works break away from tradition and show a strong dedication to avant-garde renewal, he later developed a more figurative style, rediscovering nature and making every effort to encapsulate its essential vulnerability.
This progression in his style is due to his disillusionment with the modern world and the devastating violence of the machine age. Bomberg’s harrowing experiences in the trenches during the First World War – where he lost his brother and several close friends – profoundly changed his outlook on the world.
His early works gain their immense vigour from a fascinating paradox: while he was radically rejecting the traditional vision which overwhelmed many of his contemporaries, he was at the same time infusing his work with references drawn from the Old Masters whose art he admired and had assiduously copied as a teenager.
Rather than imitating his favourite artists, like Botticelli and Michelangelo, he analysed and studied them closely in order to achieve his own audacious renewal.
Richard Cork, guest curator of the exhibition, told ArtsCulture: “Even at his most rebellious and innovative, young Bomberg was enormously excited and stimulated by visiting the National Gallery and gaining crucial inspiration from the painters he admired there.”
Exhibition organised by the National Gallery in partnership with Tate
Young Bomberg and the Old Masters runs from 27 November 2019 – 1 March 2020. Admission is free.
For opening times, pop over to the National Gallery site
top image: David Bomberg, The Mud Bath, 1914 © Tate
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