David Bomberg 1890-1957

Provenance

Fischer Fine Art, London
Private Collection
Through the winter of 1942-43, Bomberg once again found himself in a debilitating
depression. He felt stranded in London, with no subject apparent to him and no studio
to use in the cramped environment of the family home. Salvation came in the summer of
1943 thanks to his wife, Lilian, who bought flowers in the hope her husband might paint
them. Lilian set up a studio for him in a disused part of their mews complete with a skylight.
She later remembered how a curtain was hung for use as a backdrop to the still lifes and
soon Bomberg ‘only painted flowers’, going to Covent Garden to choose his own, always
placing them in the same vase, ‘he wasn’t interested in flower arrangement – he just put
them in and painted them.’

In Flowers Evening, the burgundy curtain mentioned by Lilian appears a more central
concern to Bomberg than the flowers themselves. Its purely abstract pattern of deep
red and a splash of white completely subsumes the blooms, pouring its colour into
their heads. Yet, rather than becoming a flatly abstract image, the density of Bomberg’s
handling of paint establishes a certain chromatic depth in Flowers Evening. These broad
bars of white, red, and mauve swim together with layer upon layer of interwoven tones.
It is the apotheosis of David Sylvester’s observation that we find each layer of colour in
Bomberg’s work ‘preserving its own identity and virtue. […] The colour works in depth:
concords and discords vibrate not only between the colours spread across the canvas, but
between the colours superimposed on one another’.

Many of Bomberg’s flower paintings appear to threaten the boundaries of the picture
itself, but here they succeed in leaping out of the frame, continuing beyond the view
permitted by the artist. Recalling Sickert’s theatre scenes, Bomberg leads our view in one
direction as the flowers jolt away on an opposing axis. We are shown a glimpse, which
stands as a synecdoche for the full, uncontainable display. The flowers become a vessel
containing the pain and tumult of a city at war. Richard Cork writes that, despite attempting
to focus on the ‘freshly cut Covent Garden blooms, Bomberg cannot prevent himself
from introducing overtones of war as well. Although he rejoices in the flowers’ colour
and potency, Bomberg is powerless to protect them from the destructive forces which
threatened every aspect of London life in the early 1940s’. In Bomberg’s work depicting
a bomb store, instigated by the War Artists’ Advisory Commission and completed in
the months preceding these flowers, he demonstrates his receptivity to the destructive
forces Cork mentions, even as they lay dormant. Looking down upon this bouquet, in its
vase and cramped studio, those same forces are suddenly unleashed. It shows Bomberg
balancing his reflections on the merciless torpidity of his age against the isolation and
innocence of the still life genre.