Crane Kalman Gallery London
Sir Leon Bagrit
London, Crane Kalman Gallery, The Sea, 1962, cat no.48
DescriptionInspired by the success of his holiday to Devon the previous summer, in August 1947 Bomberg travelled with his family to Cornwall. 1 They spent a total of six weeks camping on Trenderine farm, near Zennor ‘on north Cornwall’s wild, rugged Atlantic coast, notable for its high cliffs and boulder-strewn granite hills and moors.’ 2 For the previous two years much of Bomberg's time had been devoted to teaching at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Borough Polytechnic in London. 3 In Cornwall, away from these obligations, he was once again able to engage directly with the landscape and paint without distraction. He painted his surroundings from varying viewpoints, at different times of the day, in the changing weather. The resulting works exemplified his teachings, which emphasised a close observation of the subject, combined with one’s own subjective physical and emotional response.
Whilst in Cornwall, Bomberg did not to contact any of St Ives’ well-known artistic community, including Ben Nicholson, whom he had previously been on holiday with to Switzerland, preferring instead to work in isolation. Indeed, the artist’s paintings of Cornwall demonstrate a rather singular vision of the landscape quite at odds with that seen in the work of his British counterparts, as Richard Cork suggests, ‘Where Nicholson maintains a respectful and understated distance, Bomberg closes on the land like an impetuous lover who grasps, probes and caresses nature with sensual abandon.’ 4 In stark contrast to the cool restraint of the Modernists, Bomberg’s frenetic brushmarks and evocative use of colour capture what he referred to as the ‘spirit in the mass.’ Cork has suggested that Bomberg’s Cornwall paintings more closely relate to those by Oskar Kokoshka, who spent nine months in Cornwall in 1939 and has also drawn parallels between the artist’s brushmarks and those of American Abstract Expressionist painters of the same period.
Bomberg’s Cornish landscapes are almost Turner-esque in their atmospheric effects. Although Lilian Bomberg remembered the summer they spent there as sunny rather than hot, she recalled witnessing spectacular sunsets. The present work, saturated with rich reddy pinks, oranges and blues, depicts St Ives harbour during one such sunset. The scene is imbued with a sense of stillness and reflection and one can almost hear the gentle movement of the waves. Here, Bomberg has succeeded in producing an image that fulfils his own definition of a painting as ‘the monument to a memorable hour.’ 5
The years immediately surrounding the Second World War were a time of difficulty for the artist, when he was struggling for recognition at the same time as destruction fell about him in London. However, Cork has described his trip to Cornwall as 'the most successful painting expedition he ever undertook in Britain' 6, which resulted in ‘the most outstanding British landscapes’ the artist ever painted. 7 Indeed, William Lipke notes that when Bomberg returned to his teaching posts in the autumn term of 1947, ‘he was rejuvenated, and his enthusiasm increased for the teaching which he had found to be necessary for his intellectual as well as his financial well-being.’ 8
St. Ives is, along with Sea, Sunshine and Rain, one of the last of Bomberg’s paintings of Cornwall not to be in an important public collection. Other works from the series are in the following collections:
Tendrine in Sun, Cornwall - coll. Manchester City Art Gallery
Tendrine Cornwall - coll. Arts Council of Great Britain
Tregor and Tregoff, Cornwall – coll. Tate Gallery
Evening, Cornwall - coll. Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry
1 Bomberg was accompanied by his wife Lillian, their daughter Diana, his step-daughter Dinora, Dinora’s daughter Juliet and his son-in-law Leslie Marr.
2 Sarah MacDougall & Rachel Dickson, Bomberg, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, 2017, p170
3 In Autumn 1945, Bomberg took on a weekend teaching post at the Bartlett School of Architecture and from 1945 to 1953 taught evening classes at the Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University). The classes attracted a diverse group of individuals seeking to escape the traditional art school format. Students included Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, but the artists most associated with the classes were perhaps those who went on to form the Borough Group and subsequent Borough Bottega.
4 Richard Cork, David Bomberg, The Tate Gallery, 1988, Richard Cork, p42
5 Cork, Ibid, p42
6 David Bomberg, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p271
7 Cork, Ibid, p42
8 William Lipke, David Bomberg, A Critical Study of his Life and Work, Evelyn, Adams & Mackay Ltd, 1967, p92