David Bomberg 1890-1957


Bernard Jacobsen Gallery, London
Private Collection, U.K.


Richard Cork, David Bomberg, Yale University Press, London, 1987, pp.309-10, illustrated fig. 368, as Trees, Ronda Valley
From February 1954 until shortly before his death, Bomberg lived with his wife Lilian in Ronda, Andalucía. Continued critical neglect had driven them from their home nation to return to the place that inspired some of David’s most accomplished landscapes two decades earlier. Back in Britain – in a review of the last of four Borough Bottega exhibitions, held in 1955 – some recognition of Bomberg’s significance was meted out by John Berger. ‘He is an important and a very mature painter who should have a retrospective exhibition at the Tate’, Berger wrote, ‘The emotion, manner and content of his pictures are completely integrated’. For Bomberg, Ronda became a fertile land to harvest the mature and fully ‘integrated’ style Berger praised. But regardless of any such hopeful glimmer of critical appreciation in London, the continuing complexity and diversity of response this rugged Spanish environment released in Bomberg would justify his remaining there for the foreseeable future.

Sunlight in the Valley, Ronda, completed the year after Berger’s comments, exemplifies the innovation that shaped these later years of Bomberg’s career. Instead of placing the viewer on top of buildings or looking up through the vertiginous gorge above which the town is perched, Bomberg takes a view of Ronda from range, with central details of the distant architecture nestled at the heart of the composition. The very fabric of the cartridge paper seems pulled taut by the repoussoir framing, realised by trees more rock than foliage. Bomberg rarely allows vegetation into his scenes and here the trees offer no naturalistic respite from the work’s priority: a rigorous geometric composition. Cork has suggested this ‘unassailable structure’ is rooted in Bomberg’s early experimental works in a cubist style. The ‘angular segments’ in Sunlight in the Valley, he suggests, ‘reveal a continuing debt to Cézanne and affirm a preference for austerity’. In Bomberg’s Ronda charcoals produced in the fifties, austerity indeed overtook the linear exuberance of earlier work made at Middle Temple. However, in Bomberg’s hands, the use of Cézannesque form is not a cage of influence but is used to achieve the ‘way out through the sunlight’ he acknowledged the French master had found. The bright central vacancy of this work, created through rubbing out, draws the viewer through the sharply defined picture-space, producing an embodied experience of exhilaration which suggests the transcendent quality Bomberg discovered in landscape, and which would live on after his death in the work of his students.