Now feted as one of the best British painters of the last century, David Bomberg – despite possessing enormous talent – had a difficult life. Considered too avant-garde at the beginning of his career and too conservative at the end, he had a lifelong habit of failing the fashion test.
But a new exhibition, “Bomberg” at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery, shows that he fully deserves his posthumous recognition. “Bomberg’s reputation has continued to grow,” says Rachel Dickson, curator at the Ben Uri Gallery, which organised the exhibition. “Despite scandalous critical neglect in his own lifetime, he’s now recognised as a leading 20th-century British artist: a unique, independent vision who radically altered our understanding of landscape and figurative painting.”
Born in Birmingham to Jewish parents from Poland, Bomberg moved to the turn-of-the-century East End of London and became part of the thriving émigré scene. Full of early promise, he began as a prodigy at Walter Sickert’s life-drawing classes at the Westminster School of Art, a crucible for the Camden Town Group, which painted contemporary London realistically, à la Manet.
He then went to the Slade School of Art, alongside fellow rising stars Mark Gertler, William Roberts, CRW Nevinson and Dora Carrington, but was expelled, supposedly for being too ahead of his time. Certainly, his geometric and angular works were in tune with imported ideas like Cubism and Italian Futurism, with the city seen as a vast mechanical ballet: see Ju-Jitsu (c. 1913) and The Mud Bath of 1914.