David Bomberg

Sketches for ‘The Dancer’


In Tate Britain

David Bomberg 1890–1957
Charcoal on paper
Support: 381 × 279 mm
Presented by Mrs Lilian Bomberg 1975

Display caption

Dance was an important subject for many of the artists associated with vorticism. Bomberg’s interest was probably prompted by the Russian Ballet’s visit to London in 1911. He was close with the dancer Maria Wajda. Over the two years 1913 and 1914 he produced works on this subject in chalk, charcoal, watercolour, ink and gouache paint as well as lithographic prints. These are among Bomberg’s most abstract works. They reflect the modern rhythms and liberated movement for which the Russian Ballet was known.

Gallery label, October 2020

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Catalogue entry

T01961 SKETCHES FOR ‘THE DANCER’ c. 1913–14

Not inscribed
Charcoal on paper, 15×11 1/16 (38.1×28)
Presented by Mrs Lilian Bomberg 1975
Lit: Anthony d'Offay, Abstract Art in England 1913–15, d'Offay Couper Gallery, November–December 1969, p.10; Richard Cork, Vorticism and its Allies, Hayward Gallery, March–June 1974, p.89; Richard Cork, Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, Vol. 2 ‘Synthesis and Decline’, 1976, pp.392–400

The drawings on both recto and verso display features common to two other works in ‘The Dancer’ series which Bomberg was working on in 1913 and 1914. The series was executed in a variety of different media, chalk and charcoal, watercolour and gouache. They are among some of Bomberg's most abstract work from this period, and led to the cover design for John Rodker's Poems 1914. One design in particular, ‘Study for “The Dancer” ’, c. 1913 (crayon and watercolour, 9 7/8×4 3/4), exhibited Bomberg, Fischer Fine art, 1973 (53, repr. p.11), comes extremely close to the cover design.

Cork (op.cit) suggests that the series was prompted by the visits to London of the Ballets Russes. From 1911 on Bomberg was particularly friendly with the Russian Ballet dancer, Maria Wajda, and his dancer friends from the East End also inspired him. Sophie Cohen-later Sonia Joslen-in a recent interview with Richard Cork explained: ‘In 1913, when I went down to Southbourne to join a summer school dancing out-of-doors on the cliffs with Margaret Morris, Bomberg followed me down there with a few friends. He was in here with me at the time, and thought it a great lark to watch us all cavorting around in the open-air camp. The “Dancer” watercolours came out of his interest in all this, and I think you can see the bodies' movement clearly in the designs’. (Richard Cork, op.cit, 1976 p.392).

The main block of the large drawing on the recto of T01961 is close in its basic form to ‘The Dancer’ (crayon, watercolour, gouache, 26 1/2×21 7/8, private collection, d'Offay, op.cit, (5), repr. in colour p.15). The rectilinear design is reversed in T01961, and the arcs, although orientated in the same direction as in the paintings are not in the same place. The three smaller sketches below the main drawing are variations and details of it.

The largest drawing on the verso of T01961 is a summary variation on the theme of ‘The Dancer’, 1913–14 (pencil, watercolour, gouache, 10 3/4×7 3/8, collection Christopher Selines, repr. d'Offay, p.43). The additional feature, which appears on the right of this study, appears on the left in the verso of T.1961. This feature can also be found on the left of ‘The Dancer’, 1913 (watercolour, 15×11, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, repr. Vorticism and its Allies catalogue, (366) repr. p.99). The marginal drawing on the verso, top right resembles ‘Family Bereavement’ 1912 (charcoal and black chalk, 21 1/2×18 1/4, and watercolour 23 1/2×20 1/2, both collection Mrs Lilian Bomberg).

Wyndham Lewis, William Roberts, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, friends of Bomberg in 1913–14, also executed works on this theme, e.g. Lewis' ‘Kermesse’ 1912, and ‘Red Duet’ 1914, Roberts' ‘The Toe Dancer’ 1914 and ‘Two Step’ c.1915, and Gaudier-Brzeska's ‘Red Stone Dancer’ 1913. The subject of the dance was one which Bomberg returned to in several drawings after the First World War.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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