David Bomberg Trees in Sun, Cyprus 1948

Artwork details

Artist
David Bomberg 1890–1957
Title
Trees in Sun, Cyprus
Date 1948
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 639 x 765 mm
frame: 815 x 935 x 95
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 1992
Reference
T06634
Not on display

Summary

Despite the considerable acclaim David Bomberg had received as a young painter before the First World War (1914-18), by the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-45) his work was out of favour with most critics. Although the War Artists Advisory Committee had awarded him one modest commission in 1942, the organisation's very limited patronage did little to lessen the difficulties he had making a living as an artist. With the end of the war, teaching posts became available and in August 1945 he secured a part-time position teaching Fine Art at Borough Polytechnic in London. His unconventional teaching techniques and commitment to painting inspired such loyalty among his students that a handful banded together to form the Borough Group. In the catalogue for their first exhibition, which was held in 1947 at the Archer Gallery on Westbourne Grove in London, they declared that the Group had been 'founded on the belief that there is in nature a truth and a realism which the usual contemporary approach to painting is unable to convey' (quoted in Cork 1987, p.270). This statement which was written by Bomberg, reflected his belief that in a technological age often characterised by alienation and destruction, humanity needed to reconnect with Nature. For him landscape painting, once released from the stultifying conventions of academicism, could provide this link. His own vigourous, almost gestural paintings were expressions of the life force coursing through him and the organic matter he depicted.

In the summer of 1946 David Bomberg went on holiday in North Devon. During his two weeks there he painted several landscapes and so resumed a practice he had abandoned almost ten years earlier. The following summer he visited Zennor in Cornwall and painted some more landscapes. Then in 1948, Leslie Marr, his son-in-law and student at Borough Polytechnic, offered to pay for a family holiday to a destination of Bomberg's choice. He chose Cyprus having been told about it by an architect who had a practice in Lapithos. The family set off in July and spent several weeks on the island.

Trees in Sun was not intended to be a topographically accurate depiction of a particular part of the Cypriot countryside. Instead, as with his earlier landscape paintings, Bomberg sought to reveal the underlying structure of the land and give a sense of its character and spirit. The fiery colours, the range of textures and vigorous marks imbue the painting with an overwhelming sense of movement and vitality that is in keeping with Bomberg's own view of nature and how it should be represented. In the third Borough Group exhibition held at the Arcade Gallery, London in the spring of 1949, there were as many as ten paintings by Bomberg and among them were some of his Cyprus paintings. The artist and critic, Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), reviewing the exhibition praised Bomberg and declared that the group's members were 'rip-roaring flaming romantics' (quoted in Cork 1987, p.280).

Most of Bomberg's Cyprus pictures were painted at the Monastery of Ayios Chrisostomos, where the family stayed for part of the holiday, but Trees in Sun was painted en plein air during a day trip from Lapithos. On his return from Cyprus, Bomberg resumed his teaching at Borough Polytechnic, but did not paint again for another four years.

Further reading:
Richard Cork, David Bomberg, New Haven and London 1987, reproduced p.284, colour plate 57
Richard Cork, David Bomberg, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1988
William Lipke, David Bomberg, London 1967, pp.94-7

Toby Treves
July 2001