Catalogue entry

T04890 The City on the Rock, Evening, Ronda, Spain 1935

Black chalk on laid paper 470 × 628 (18 1/2 × 24 3/4); watermark ‘INGRES GVA [followed by a diamond device] RRO’
Inscribed ‘Bomberg 35’ b.l. and ‘The City on The Rock, Evening Ronda Spain’ b.r. on back
Presented by Dinora Davies-Rees, the artist's step-daughter, and her daughter Juliet Lamont through the Contemporary Art Society 1987
Prov: Lilian Bomberg, the artist's widow (d.1983), by whom bequeathed to Dinora Davies-Rees, the artist's step-daughter, and her daughter Juliet Lamont
Exh: David Bomberg, Marlborough Fine Art, March 1967 (7); Bomberg: Paintings/Drawings/Watercolours and Lithographs, Fischer Fine Art, March–April 1973 (124, as ‘The City on the Rock - Evening, Ronda’); David Bomberg (1890–1957), Rex Irwin Gallery, Woollahra, Australia, June–July 1986 (19); Bomberg: Paintings/Drawings/Watercolours and Lithographs, Fischer Fine Art, March–April 1973 (124, as ‘The City on the Rock - Evening, Ronda’); Bomberg: An Exhibition of Major Paintings and Drawings, Fischer Fine Art, March–April 1988 (70)
Lit: Richard Cork, David Bomberg, 1987, pp.207–15

This black chalk drawing, executed at Ronda in Andalucia, shows houses at the top and foot of the rocky gorge found in the centre of the ancient town. The angular shapes of the houses are echoed in the vertical clefts in the rocky slope, while the overall darkness of the drawing and the blurred lines convey a sense of evening shadows. The hemisphere in the centre left was probably inspired by one of the spans of the bridge crossing the gorge.

Bomberg first visited Spain when, partly inspired by his admiration for the seventeeth-century painter El Greco, he spent the autumn months of 1929 in Toledo. His companion and future wife, Lilian Holt, left their London home to join him. However, they quarrelled, and she travelled independently to southern Spain, visiting Ronda briefly. According to Richard Cork (1987, p.186), she fell in love with the town, although there was no thought then of returning to live there. In the summer of 1934 Bomberg and Lilian decided to travel to Cuenca in central Spain. Lilian Bomberg later recalled, ‘He knew the landscape suited him, and life was very much cheaper in Spain’ (quoted ibid., p.203). Cuenca was an ancient settlement built on a high ridge of rock with rivers on each side. Cork (ibid.) writes:

Sometimes... Bomberg's long, swooping brushstrokes concentrated on a relatively literal depiction of Cuenca and its primitive setting. But when he painted in the evening light, his response to buildings and landscape alike became looser and less inhibited... Bomberg was experimenting with a far broader and more summarizing approach than he had dared to attempt in the Toledo canvases, and the results were bound to be uneven as he strove to achieve a way of painting which allowed for a franker declaration of his subjective reaction to the landscape.

Bomberg had no wish to return to England where his financial prospects were gloomy, and was saved from doing so by the generosity of two Bradford-based collectors of his works, Arthur Crossland and Asa Lingard, who each sent him £25 with a view to allowing him to remain in Spain and press on with the new development in his work. It was Lilian who, remembering the town from her earlier visit, suggested that they went to Ronda. She was now pregnant, and she liked the idea of being near enough to Gibraltar to arrange for the baby to be born on British soil. Cork (ibid., pp.207–8) writes:

she also hoped Bomberg would find abundant inspiration in a location dramatic enough to bring out the most forceful and impulsive side of his temperament. Her hopes were amply fulfilled. Bomberg responded very directly to a place he later described as ‘the most interesting of the towns of Southern Spain’. He was particularly impressed by its command of ‘an extraordinary view of the amphitheatre of mountains by which it is surrounded’, and drew special attention to ‘the gorge - a stupendous rent 250–300 ft wide & 400 ft deep’.

They rented a house at 9 San Juan de Letran in the old part of Ronda. Bomberg never learned Spanish, and the family did not mix very much with the locals, who regarded them with suspicion. He painted incessantly and became particularly interested in working late in the day, when, as Cork writes (ibid., p.213), ‘shadows threaten to turn both the buildings and the rocky bluff into a sombre, menacing silhouette’. He sometimes also worked by moonlight.

Cork reproduces a relatively naturalistic charcoal drawing of the gorge with houses clustered at the top of the ravine and the bridge with its distinctive spans (‘Bridge and Gorge, Ronda’, 1935, pl.268), and writes:

This drawing was probably executed at the beginning of his stay in Ronda, while he was still acquainting himself with the character of the roughhewn citadel. His admiration for the monumental structure of the bridge, which was designed by an Aragonese architect in the eighteenth century and took over forty years to build, is already apparent. The sheer grandeur of his surroundings may have intimidated Bomberg at first, but other drawings show how imperiously he managed to shake off any lingering hesitation and leave the minutiae of external appearances behind him. The forms of the Ronda rock-face soon become more summary and bare, recalling in their simplified masses the most minimal of his pre-war drawings. In one looming study [‘Ronda’, 1935, repr. pl.269] Bomberg's charcoal reduces the town itself to a small row of buildings teetering perilously on the plateau's edge.

The medium of drawings executed by Bomberg during his six-month stay at Ronda is typically described as charcoal. It is thought by the Tate Gallery conservation department, however, that Bomberg used black chalk for T04890. It is not known how many drawings Bomberg executed in all. None were preparatory studies for oils, although inevitably a few of the forty or so paintings executed there represent a similar view (compare, for example, T04890 with ‘Ronda, Spain’, 1935, coll. Professor E. Boyland, repr. Richard Cork, David Bomberg, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1988, p.122). According to Cork (1987, p.211), ‘Unlike the Toledo period, when Bomberg concentrated almost entirely on painting, the stay at Ronda prompted him to resume drawing on an ambitious scale and produce images as substantial in their way as his works on canvas’. He continued, ‘Lilian, who recalled that “he would have very good handmade paper and pin it up on board”, explained that Bomberg never used a sketch-pad because he “didn't need to sketch-he had an enormous capacity to size up what he wanted and do it quickly”’.

After a stay in the Asturias region of Spain (see entry on T04891), Bomberg and his family returned to England in October 1935. He had a one-man exhibition at the Cooling Galleries in June 1936 which showed a comprehensive selection of work executed in Spain (Recent Paintings of Spain by David Bomberg, June–July 1936). Cork (1987, p.219) writes that most unusually for an exhibition in that gallery, not a single work sold, and that there were few sympathetic reviews. However, a copy of the catalogue, annotated by Bomberg himself and now in the collection of the Tate Gallery library, indicates that by a certain point in the course of the exhibition four paintings were sold and one was reserved. Eleven Ronda drawings were included, each with a specific title, with prices ranging from ten to fifteen guineas. Unless T04890 were subsequently retitled, it was not included in this show.

Bomberg returned to Ronda in 1954. He rented a villa close to where he had lived in 1935, hoping to estabish an art school. The project failed, but he remained in Ronda until 1957, the year of his death. (For discussion of Bomberg's stays in Ronda, see Christopher Neve, ‘The Divided View: David Bomberg in Ronda, Andalucia’, Country Life, 23 May 1983, pp.1411–13.)

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996