National Gallery

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January, 2020

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An early twentieth century abstract artist who includes Great War images as well as the Holy Week processions in Spain among his works, he was also inspired by studying the Renaissance masters. A small National Gallery compares his responses to El Greco and Botticelli.

Apart from the direct gaze from the frame at the viewer I could not see much contact between his self-portrait and the Botticelli original; the El Greco parallel was much closer though. The angles and attenuation of the St Francis were clearly influential on the way Bomberg developed his geometrical abstract forms. It was also illuminating to compare his finished paintings with the preceding pencil sketches, which show an almost realistic presentation became abstracted.

War service had given Bomberg a similar experience to Munnings of the strength and endurance of Canadian soldiers, in his case tunnelling from the trenches, in the case of Munnings of logging. His drawing showed the power of their work in near-photographic style. In the painting abstraction was all, apart from a collage-like image of a soldier.

The National Gallery performs an excellent service in showing twentieth century art with it predecessors, giving both relevance for its visitors. Previously Maggi Hambling and – I think – Bridget Riley have been featured in similar ways. If Bridget Riley has not had this presentation I hope she will soon, as a lifelong development from student days to the present was revealing of classical influences in her recently closed exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. That would certainly include Titian as an influence, as I remember from a splendid lecture on colour she gave at Cambridge some years ago.


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