David Bomberg 1890-1957


Private Collection
James Hyman Gallery, London
Private Collection, USA
Purple Flowers was painted during a period of acute angst in David Bomberg’s life. Working in obscurity and with little financial support from his work, he was primarily inspired in the 1930s by his travels abroad to Scotland and Spain. When he was not travelling, he languished in his Hampstead home and his attention was piqued only by his balding self-image and a handful of other domestic items. This flower painting is, nevertheless, an example of Bomberg’s fluent, fast-moving brushwork of this period – a characteristic which distinguishes him among the leading British painters of the time. Along with the floral still-life paintings of Bomberg’s contemporary Matthew Smith, the exuberant handling on display in Purple Flowers suggests the artist’s restless energy. The brooding, red-brown tonality of the painting provides a further hint to Bomberg’s mood at the time.

Some years after he painted this work, in the summer of 1943 Bomberg’s wife started buying flowers and arranging them in vases in the house. She explained later in conversation with the academic Richard Cork,

I was in the habit of passing a lady who sold flowers outside Gloucester Road tube station. I thought if I spent a little housekeeping money on a bunch that I picked, David might be induced to start painting them. I took a bunch home, arranged them in a vase on the living-room table and left them there. After two or three days I suggested to him that he paint them.

These flowers were the inspiration for a cycle of paintings by Bomberg, which he executed between 1943 and 1947. Several of these paintings are in UK public collections, including the Tate. Purple Flowers provides an historical insight into the emergence of this later cycle of work, shedding light on an earlier phase of exploration which has seldom been recognised by scholars of Bomberg’s work.