I first became aware of David Bomberg through reading interviews with Frank Auerbach in which he talked about how influential Bomberg had been as a teacher to him. He was a pupil between 1947-50. Leon Kosoff was also a pupil.
Through Auerbach, in particular, I think, Bomberg has become an icon of modern British art. His name is always mentioned in revered terms and I that is because Auerbach is the godfather of modern British art and when the godfather says someone is an important artist then you know that person must be little short of a god!
All this recognition now makes it kind of sad to consider that in his own lifetime Bomberg had no success.
The son of Polish Jewish refugees, he had through poverty earned a living as a model at the Slade School. He came to the attention of J.S. Sargent in 1907. Sargent employed him as an assistant on the Boston Lary pictures Sargent was working on in London. Sargent's help didn't end there. He helped him enter the Slade School as a pupil. Bomberg also attended Walter Sickert's drawing classes at the Central School.
Early influences on his work included the work of Manet and the Impressionists which he saw in the exhibition in London in 1910. wo years later he discovered Cubism.
During a brief visit to Paris in 1914, he visited as many museums and galleries as possible to further his art education. This education was halted the following year when he enlisted and endured trench life in World War I. In 1918, the Canadian Army commissioned Sappers at Work (Ottawa). The first version was rejected and he had to repaint it in 1919.
His work in this period was very much Cubistic in manner but he became more conventional in the 1920s.
In 1923, the Zionist Office employed him for four years to record the Jewish resettlement in Palestine. Through this employment he became a landscape painter portraying the picturesque Arab villages and the remains of Byzantine churches which displeased his employers who wanted him to portray the settlers' efforts to establish themselves.
In 1926, he visited the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. George Hodjava and produced a small body of work which showed an exhuberance not always evident in the Jerusalem and Petra subjects where the considerations of patrons had to be considered.
He returned to London in 1927 and two years later began years of restless travelling - to Spain, Scotland and Russia. He returned to Spain until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and then went back to London where he faced severe money problems.
In 1941, the Artists Advisory Committe formed on the outbreak of World War II, sent him to paint a huge bomb-store; they rejected his piece when they saw it as he had painted it as if it were on fire. Three years later it blew up!
During this period, he also painted pictures of London after the Blitz.
He held a number teaching jobs until 1948. Loved by his students which included Auerbach and Kossoff, he was loated in eqal measure by the staff.
From 1948 he resumed his peripatetic life. He went to Cyprus and left because of political troubles; in the 1950s he travelled to France. Thereafter, he was back in Spain at Rondo where he tried to start an art school. It was a financial disaster. He returned to England in poor health and died soon after.
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