David Bomberg vi c.1914–19

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Artwork details

David Bomberg 1890–1957
Date c.1914–19
Medium Lithograph on paper
Dimensions Image: 77 x 68 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1970
Not on display

Catalogue entry

P07013 [from] RUSSIAN BALLET LITHOGRAPHS circa 1914/1919 [P07008-P07013]


Purchased from the d'Offay-Couper Gallery (Gytha Trust) 1970.
(vi) Inscribed ‘D.B.’, b.l. Sheet 8⅜×5¼ (21.5×13.5); image 3×2⅝ (8×7).
Exh: Abstract Art in England 1913–1915, d'Offay-Couper Gallery, November–December 1969 (21, with i, iii and iv repr. in colour).
Lit: William Lipke, David Bomberg, 1967, pp. 114–5, with i, iii and iv repr. pl. II in colour.

Although the date of publication (and doubtless of execution) of these lithographs was 1919, they can be dated also to circa 1914 both on stylistic grounds and on the statement of Bomberg's first wife Alice Mayes in 1965 (quoted in Lipke, op. cit., p. 115 note 37) that, to make the lithographs, ‘David took six of the little drawings he had coloured before he went away to the War’. The earlier dating is supported also by Jacob Mendelson (see below).

According to Bomberg himself, as many as twelve such pre-war designs were adapted by him for wider reproduction.

‘...I lithographed in seven printings and printed myself...abstract drawings in colour I had done on the inspiration of Ballet. Certain adventurous forms were reproduced, some of them for the new style of textile manufacturing; the remainder together with Blank Verse Poems to collate the dozen designs, were published by Henderson's Book Shop, Charing Cross Road’ (quoted by Lipke, op. cit., p. 50).

The lithographs were published as part of a booklet entitled. Russian Ballet, published in 1919 by Henderson's ‘The Bomb Shop’, 66 Charing Cross Road, London. Lipke (op. cit., p. 114 note 37) records that the money to finance the booklet was provided by Jacob Mendelson, and quotes Alice Mayes (from the same letter cited above):

‘“Russian Ballet” was not a programme, nor even a Souvenir. It was an effort of David's while he was hanging about waiting for the Canadians to decide what they would do about his drawings for the War Memorial, just to keep him happy and relaxed. ... In one of his madcap moods, he and a friend (and I) went among the people in the stalls pretending to be selling programmes at 2/6d a time. Of course Diagileff soon got wind of what was going on and naturally would have none of it, the buyers were re-imbursed and the “programmes” collected and together with David and friend and myself, were chased up into the nine-penny gallery where we belonged. David took his hundred unsold copies to Henderson's Bomb Shop in Charing Cross Road, where they were put out for sale and about ten were sold and then Henderson withdrew them as unsaleable, and they remained in the Bomb Shop until David renewed his acquaintance with Mendelson, who was willing to take the lot off David's hands at a price.’

Jacob Mendelson told the compiler (conversation, 29 July 1970) that he had known Bomberg from 1913, and that the original designs from which the Russian Ballet lithographs were developed were executed around 1914. He himself had formerly owned several of the original designs which were now lost. Bomberg had already sought unsuccessfully to get financial backing for his project to publish the lithographs, when Mendelson contributed £30 to help its realisation. The project was not a financial success, and Mendelson was unable to sell the stock of copies of the booklet (which he had retained for over forty years) until in the early 1960s he began to sell them intermittently, only then to have the majority of his copies destroyed in a fire.

Mrs Lilian Bomberg owns several of the original group of gouaches of which six were chosen as the basis of the present lithographs. Mrs Bomberg's gouaches include the originals of (iii) P07010
and (vi) P07013, which are the same size as the lithographs, differing only in medium and (slightly) in colour value, and what appears to be a study for (ii) P07009. Mrs Bomberg also owns several state proofs of (i) P07008 and (iii) P07010.

In the booklet, the text, consisting of a short poem by Bomberg himself, is interspersed, with very generous spacing, with the lithographs. Each lithograph faces a fragment of text on the opposite page, in the following sequence:

(i) P07008; ‘Methodic discord startles...’

(ii) P07009; ‘Insistent snatchings drag fancy from space’

(iii) P07010; ‘Fluttering white hands beat—compel. Reason concedes’

(iv) P07011; ‘Impressions crowding collide with movement round us’

(v) P07012; ‘—the curtain falls—the created illusion escapes’

(vi) P07013; ‘The mind clamped fast captures only a fragment, for new illusion’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1968-70, London 1970

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