David Bomberg

In the Hold


In Tate Britain

David Bomberg 1890–1957
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1962 × 2311 mm
frame: 1995 × 2355 × 63 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1967

Display caption

The subject of this painting is the hold of a ship, in which dock workers are handling heavy freight. However, Bomberg has divided the canvas into a grid of squares that are themselves divided. The effect of this is to shatter form, transforming the scene into a kinetic pattern of shape and dazzling colour. Though the image has become hard to decipher, the fragmented composition expresses the energy of men at work in an industrial environment.

Gallery label, October 2020

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Catalogue entry

David Bomberg 1890–1957

T00913 In the Hold c.1913–14

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 78 x 101 (198.1 x 256.5).
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1967.
Coll: Purchased by the Friends from the artist’s widow through Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. 1967.
Exh: London Group, Goupil Gallery, March 1914 (67); Twentieth Century Art: Jewish Section, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May–June 1914 (254); London Group Retrospective, 1928 (28), as 1914; Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, September 1960 (1) as 1912–13; Marlborough Fine Art, March 1964 (5, repr.); London Group Jubilee Exhibition 1914–64, Tate Gallery, July-August 1964 (4, repr. ); Arts Council, Decade 1910–20, tour of Leeds, Reading, Manchester, Glasgow and Leicester, May–September 1965 (83, repr.); Tate Gallery, March-April 1967 and tour (17, repr. in colour).
Lit: Roger Fry in The Nation, 14 March 1914; T.E. Hulme in The New Age, 26 March 1914; William Lipke, David Bomberg, 1967 (repr. in colour on jacket and opp. p. 32); Ronald Alley, ‘David Bomberg’s“In the Hold”, 1913–14’, in Burlington Magazine, CX, 1968, p. 216, repr. p. 217, pi. 73.

A drawing for this work, T00914, shows that although the finished painting appears almost abstract, it follows remarkably closely (amid its rigid vertical-horizontal and diagonal grid) the drawn outlines of block-like figures standing in and around an open hold.

Although it has often been considered a later work than Bomberg’s other masterpiece of the period, T00656 The Mud Bath’ (hitherto dated 1912–13), it now seems clear that ‘In the Hold’ preceded The Mud Bath’. Stylistically it relates closely to T00585, ‘Ju-Jitsu’. The Jewish World, 18 March 1914, p. 11, reproduced this work and stated that it had been completed while Bomberg was still a student at the Slade, which he left in the summer of 1913. ‘In the Hold’ was exhibited twice in 1914, in March and May-June, before the first recorded exhibition of The Mud Bath’ (in July at Bomberg’s one-man exhibition at the Chenil Gallery). It therefore seems reasonable to assume that it was painted between these works of 1913 and 1914, between which it is intermediate in style. Keith Baynes wrote (letter of 14 July 1968): ‘I was a student at the Slade School 1912, 13 and 14 with Bomberg and knew him well. I think ‘In the Hold’ was painted when he was still a student or just after. I remember the picture and Ezra Pound’s remark that Bomberg would develop a purified sense of form by painting abstract pictures. I am sure this picture was painted before “The Mud Bath”.’

Roger Fry writing in The Nation in March 1914 (loc.cit), said of Bomberg’s works in the London Group exhibition: ‘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. I cannot say that it touched or moved me, but it did indicate new plastic possibilities, and a new kind of orchestration of colour’.

Mrs Lilian Bomberg wrote (letter of 23 May 1968): The large painting “In the Hold” was always hanging in the studio at 10, Fordwych Road, my home, where David and I lived from November 1928... In 1934 it was stored, rolled up... and it was not until after David died in 1957, and I was gradually in a position to do so, that I had all the large cubist and early works stretched and framed...’.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1967–1968, London 1968.

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