Bomberg at the National

Posted by in Culture, Visual Arts


If I haven’t said it before, Japan (the group) by way of their Oil on Canvas record introduced me to the painter Frank Auerbach. This in turn led me to Leon Kossoff and both would lead me to their teacher, David Bomberg. A Brummie by birth he graduated from the Slade and later taught at Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University).

His wife Lillian (née Holt) was also a painter but put her own career on hold to promote her husband’s work. In effect becoming an arts marketeer. Both David and Lilian were great travellers. He had visited and worked in Spain (Toledo, Asturias, and Ronda), Palestine (Jerusalem), Cyprus and in Odessa (now Ukraine). After his death, Lilian continued to paint and travel visiting Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, and Iceland as well as parts of Spain.


Though I graduated in Design this also included fine art as well as illustration. Richard Cork’s book on Bomberg engaged me on many visits to the art school library (in Newport if you don’t know already). Of particular interest was the 1952 Portrait of Dinora which years later inspired the poem Bomberg’s Dinora from my first book A Lyrical Oasis. The painting is currently held by Beaux Arts in London though I would have thought someone would have snapped that up by now!

Why that painting? I suppose it’s my Mona Lisa, only Dinora is even more mysterious as the brush strokes are more stated than delivered in a more traditionalist portraiture that the Mona Lisa is. And then there’s the colouration; red sienna, chestnut browns and black. Without that it would have nowhere near the effect or mood that it possesses and carries forth toward the viewer. Initially I thought it was an Arabic woman.


Typically my discovery at missing his 1988 retrospective at the Tate (now Tate Britain) was disappointing. At the turn of the decade in 1990 Bomberg would get his own album cover as his 1948 painting Mount Saint Hilarion and the Castle Ruins graced the exterior of It’s Immaterial’s sophomore album entitled SONG. I wonder what prompted this, and I wondered if the duo had attended the exhibition? Well, kind of, John Campbell of the band explains…

I was always interested in the work of British artists working in that period. I admired the landscape work of Bomberg and the painting titled; ‘Mount St Hilarion and the Castle Ruins’ which I used on the ‘Song’ sleeve hangs in the Walker gallery here in Liverpool so I saw it on a regular basis. 

Like myself John prefers Bomberg’s later work for his ‘beautiful palette, surface and energy.’ It’s Immaterial are not the only musical admirers of Bomberg, none other than the late David Bowie was also a fan and possessed a 1953 portrait of Dinora, but not the Dinora painting above.

One time at the Tate, I chanced upon The Mud Bath there and it’s a striking painting! It seemed bigger to me than it did now in the National; could it be a trick of the mind? And last year while travelling in Spain and Gibraltar I came close to seeing Ronda – where Bomberg painted many scenes including the famous gorge and its bridge.



In London for the Chinese New Year I found the National was showing his early works for which he is best known eg In the Hold, Ju-Jitsu and, The Mud Bath. Truth be known my preference is his later expressionist works – Dinora – his stepdaughter if you didn’t know – and said landscapes of Ronda and Jerusalem.

But no matter, it’s better than nothing and funny how these things come round and re-engage a dormant interest from the past. Like a river or train track that meanders out of view for a while then comes back into our front line of vision. 

So here I was hovering around Trafalgar Square and I thought well, why not, if it’s on. With my phone battery decaying rapidly and the weather equally so, it was the perfect day to take refuge in the gallery. It would have been nice to take tea and cake there too if the price didn’t equate to my weekly food shop! Instead, like a homing pigeon, I head straight to my destination.

The exhibition is confined to one room. Its main attractions visible through the glass in the doors; an entrance to a realm of rich navy blue. Granted, it doesn’t take too long to get round the exhibit. The gallery shop – normalised to represent as much an integral part of the ‘cultural experience’ as the exhibition itself – is selling all sorts of items related to the work, but does anyone really need a Mud Bath tote bagl!? However I digress if you are in London on a cold winter day go check out the National. Young Bomberg and the Old Masters exhibition runs until March 1, 2020.



With thanks to John Campbell for his insights into Bomberg. Tiqets (above) is an affiliate link.

Do you like this? Need a cultural teacher? Check out my UNIVERSITY page. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…

Oil on Canvas (from Oil on Canvas) – Japan
Lilian (from Playing the Angel) – Depeche Mode
Jerusalem (from Themes 4) – Simple Minds
Asturias (from Show of Hands) – Robert Fripp & The League of Crafty Guitarists
Red Sleep (from Polytown) – David Torn/Mick Karn/Terry Bozzio
The Night Gives Birth (from Stories Across Borders) – Steve Jansen/Richard Barbieri *this one especially for the Dinora painting!
Your Voice (from SONG) – It’s Immaterial

Photo Credits: KH at the National in January 2020. Album covers as always from Discogs, Book covers from Amazon, except the Ronda book from pallantbookshop Dinora image from Beaux Arts (link above).