As a young teenager in London, Bomberg made countless studies in the National Gallery. Portrait of a Young Man (1480-5) by Botticelli, was a particular favourite, so much so, that he sketched his own image with this one in mind, even asking his father to make a shirt, so that he would better resemble the man in the painting. But Bomberg soon shunned the figurative in favour of a brave new vision of the world. The Mud Bath (1914), inspired by public baths in White Chapel, show a tangle of white-blue rectangles that dance against a red background. Other paintings here (there are nine of Bomberg's in total) seem to almost prefigure early computer graphics. For works such as In the Hold (1913-14) the human body is transformed into animated blocks, albeit highly expressive ones, imbued with urgent energy.
The second old master painting shown here is from the studio of El Greco. The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (1590s), with its unfolding drama set in a grey-blue landscape, has something of a shimmering quality to it, one which Bomberg employed in his study for Sappers at Work (1918-19), a canvas inspired by his experiences of the first world war. It marks an abrupt shift from his more abstract representations. For his painting, cubist forms were just not enough. Perhaps Bomberg felt that those fighting on the front lines needed to be represented as more human, not less so. Representing people as mechanised structures, when they were the victims of machines, may have been an irony too far and lacking in pathos.
Bomberg's paintings pack quite a punch. It might have been nice to see more of the Renaissance works that influenced his compositions, but the space in this gallery is limited. All-in-all, well worth a visit.
|What||Young Bomberg and the Old Masters, National Gallery|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
27 Nov 19 – 01 Mar 20, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|