David Bomberg

Picos de Europa, Asturias, Spain


Not on display

David Bomberg 1890–1957
Charcoal on paper
Support: 468 × 633 mm
frame :791 × 629 × 35 mm
Presented by Dinora Davies-Rees, the artist's step-daughter, and her daughter Juliet Lamont through the Contemporary Art Society 1987

Display caption

In 1935 Bomberg spent four months in the Asturian mountains in northern Spain; he would have stayed longer had it not been for the impending civil war. He was attracted to the rugged and dramatic scenery and the simple, isolated life of the locals.

This drawing typifies Bomberg’s use of strong line and heavy shading to evoke the massive presence of the mountains while resisting the creation of illusionistic depth. The scale of the scene is emphasised by the way the hills fill the picture frame.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T04891 Picos de Europa, Asturias, Spain 1935

Watercolour and charcoal on laid paper 468 × 633 (18 1/2 × 25); watermark ‘INGRES GVA [followed by diamond device] RRO’
Inscribed ‘Bomberg 35’ b.l.
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 (1890–1957) and Lilian Holt, Reading Museum and Art Gallery, June–July 1971 (51)
Lit: Richard Cork, David Bomberg, 1987, pp.215–18

T04891 depicts a view of the Asturian mountains in northern Spain. The simplified shapes of the mountain peaks fill almost the entire drawing, suggesting something of the grandeur of the setting. The charcoal lines and shading have a markedly soft, velvet-like quality. There are three broken vertical lines in the centre, unrelated to the composition. These were caused, at least in part, by creases in the paper catching the charcoal; they may also have been emphasised by the artist. Before beginning work on the drawing the artist masked the edges and sprayed the sheet with blue watercolour using an atomiser.

Bomberg, together with his companion and future wife Lilian Holt, his eleven year old step-daughter Dinora and his baby daughter Diana, travelled to the Asturias in July 1935. They had spent the previous six months in Ronda in Southern Spain (see entry on T04890). In a memoir written a year later, Bomberg recalled his impressions of the rugged scenery around the tiny settlement of Linares, where he and his family stayed in a farmhouse:

There is a winding road into these mountains from Santander which was meant to bring life & prosperity to the mountain villages. It glides away across the plains - it climbs the mountains as it winds through the passes, running along the precipitous ledges, up awesome gorges & over the mountain tops, onwards to the villages to a life so far removed from that of the plains some 50 miles away. But commerce did not take this road - it could not follow so adventurous a path into the mountains - it built for itself a longer & less hazardous way - & left the older, higher road to the solitude of the heights, the peasants, & their cattle. When I searched the Picos de Europa for an entry to paint its wonder, how glad was I of this road, for it climbs in one place the outer heights of the Picos & runs through a clustering village, steeped at times in rain clouds, at times shimmering in the sun. Here I persuaded the mountain peasant to share his rare spacious farmhouse with my self & small family.

(quoted in Cork 1987, p.215)

Bomberg stayed in the region for four months. Cork (ibid., p.218) writes, ‘his sensibility seemed to be fully liberating itself after years of struggle, uncertainty and inhibition, and Lilian recalled that “we were hoping the work would be a continuous progression towards freedom during this period”’. He would have stayed longer but for the growing political tensions in Spain which were soon to erupt in full-scale civil war. At Santander he and his family were able to catch the last steamer leaving for England before war broke out.

It is not known what particular part of the Asturian mountains is represented in T04891 (the subject is identified by an inscription, not in the artist's hand, on the reverse of the sheet). In conversation with the compiler on 11 May 1994 Dinora Davies-Rees said that it was unlikely that Bomberg had walked far from Linares, and that the view was undoubtedly of the surrounding Picos de Europa mountains. Two contemporary drawings, presented to the Contemporary Art Society by Dinora Davies-Rees and Juliet Lamont in 1987, show a similarly dark and brooding view of jagged mountain peaks (repr. The Swindon Collection of Twentieth-Century British Art, Swindon 1991, p.19). ‘Mountains of Asturias, Picos de Europa’ was included in Bomberg: An Exhibition of Major Paintings and Drawings, Fischer Fine Art, March–April 1988 (69, repr.). It is not known how many drawings of this area Bomberg executed in all. Only one, entitled ‘Slopes of Navao’, was included in the exhibition Recent Paintings of Spain by David Bomberg at the Cooling Galleries in June 1936, price 12 gns.

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

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