Illustrated companion

David Bomberg is always associated with the Vorticists but was in fact an independent figure who, in the years before the First World War, forged his own distinctive brand of Cubo-Futurism, making a substantial and original contribution to the English avant-garde at that time.

This painting shows the outcome of Bomberg's search for a purely visual language in which to express his perceptions of the modern urban environment. In the catalogue of his exhibition he wrote 'I appeal to a sense of form ... I completely abandon Naturalism and Tradition. I am searching for an Interior expression ... where I use Naturalistic form I have stripped it of all irrelevant matter ... My object is the Construction of Pure Form.' 'In the Hold' is based on a scene of dockers working in the hold of a steel ship - 'I live in a steel city' Bomberg also wrote. A careful exploration of the painting will reveal more of the scene than is at first glance apparent: a ladder runs up across the bottom right quarter of the painting with a hand placed on its lowest rung, in the centre left one of the dockers can be seen, wearing a hat, his outstretched fist appearing near the left edge of the canvas between the fourth and fifth squares down. But to achieve the 'interior expression' he sought and to do so through 'Pure Form' Bomberg has shattered his original image into a glittering, shifting mosaic of sharp edged, brilliantly but harshly coloured abstract fragments, of undeniably powerful effect. Bomberg's success in achieving his aims in this picture is testified to by the Bloomsbury painter and critic Roger Fry who reviewed it when it was first shown at the London Group exhibition in March 1914: 'He is evidently trying with immense energy and concentration to realise a new kind of plasticity. In his colossal patch-work design, there glimmers through a dazzling veil of black squares and triangles the suggestion of large volumes and movements.'

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.133