David Bomberg

St Paul’s and River


Not on display

David Bomberg 1890–1957
Charcoal on paper
Support: 508 × 638 mm
Frame: 731 × 841 × 20mm
Purchased 1975

Display caption

This shows the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, seen from the west with the River Thames on the right. Bomberg made many drawings of St Paul’s during the Second World War, when it survived the Blitz and became a symbol of Britain’s resilience. He made further drawings shortly after the war for a ‘panorama of London’ that was never realised.

The definition of form by the use of strong structural charcoal lines is typical. Equally characteristic is the contrast between these vigorous lines and the soft smoky shading, for example in the sky.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T01964 St. Paul's and the River 1945

Not inscribed

Charcoal on handmade paper, 19 5/6 x25 9/8 (50.6x63.8) '. Purchased from Mrs Lilian Romberg (Grant-in-Aid) 1975 ""

Exh: David Bomberg, Marlborough Fine Art, March 1967 (30) as 'The City Blitz' series 1944

This shows a view of St. Paul's Cathedral and the River Thames (visible on the extreme right of the picture), and a church tower in the foreground. According to , Mrs Lilian Bomberg, the artist made several drawings from the church towers and steeples in the area of St. Paul's. The orientation of this drawing with the dome of St. Paul's on the left and the curvature of the Thames to the right suggests that it may have been made from St. Brides Church, looking in an easterly direction. The present rector informed the compiler that although the church was destroyed in 1941 the tower and steeple remained unharmed, and access would have been possible in 1945, when T01964 was made. However, a view from St. Brides' to St. Paul's would not have included the square church visible in Romberg's sketch, but the steeple of St. Martin's Ludgate instead. A view from the latter is precluded on the grounds that there is no church at all between St. Martin's and St. Paul's. The only church tower in the vicinity of St. Paul's corresponding to that in Bomberg's sketch is that of St. Sepulchre situated to the north-west of the Cathedral, but a view from here is ruled out on the grounds that the dome of the Old Bailey would also be clearly visible in the distance between St. Sepulchre and St. Paul's. The most probable explanations which would account for Bomberg's viewpoint are, either that he drew the tower of St. Sepulchre from an adjacent building and then shifted this vantage point to complete the composition from the tower of St. Brides, or alternatively that he drew the whole sketch from a building near St. Sepulchre omitting the Old Bailey dome, and altering the angle of cur- vature of the Thames. Both hypotheses suggests a composite study rather than an accurate record of a particular site.

T01964 is one of a number of drawings Bomberg made of London during 1944- 45, several of which are also of St. Paul's. The earlier drawings are more objective and studied than the latter ones such as T01964 which are stronger graphically and more atmospheric.

There appear to be three different yet related projects which inspired the drawings of London at this time. First, according to Lilian Bomberg, the artist was anxious to record London in the Blitz and particularly the historic monuments, which might be, and sometimes were, destroyed by enemy action. Secondly, John Rodker, the publisher and proprietor of the Imago Press was interested in Bomberg's idea of producing a book of drawings of London, but in the end Rodker felt that the style of Romberg's drawings was too loose for the public and the project was abandoned.

From these two projects emerged a third, which was to make a panorama of London and the River Thames. In a letter written to the Ministry of Works, Lambeth Bridge House, 8 October 1945 (microfilm in the Tate Gallery Archives), Romberg wrote: 'I seek permission to view from "Big Ben" the aspect of the City and the River. I am working on a series of drawings that will form when co- ordinated a panorama of London-to be reproduced and published in London. If the aspect provides the material I need I will ask your permission to make a num- ber of drawings.' Permission to 'photograph/sketch' from the Golden Gallery of St. Paul's was granted in November 1945.

Another letter (microfilm in the Tate Gallery Archives) illuminates the seriousness of Bomberg's involvement in the last project. It is from E. H. W. Selwyn, Research Laboratory, Kodak Limited, Harrow, 4 December 1945, and answers technical questions that Bomberg had raised with him and another Kodak employee at a discussion in November. Bomberg appears to have wanted to use photographs to help him in the project and was trying to ascertain what kind of distortions would occur using different lenses. Wide angle lenses are mentioned as a possible aid to achieving the kind of perspective he sought. But Selwyn concluded: 'It seems to me that the management of the perspective, in the sense you indicated to us, is only possible by the ingenuity and inspiration of a painter'.

There were unfortunately no letters to Kodak from Bomberg since the artist made a personal visit to the company, therefore one can only conjecture as to the nature of Bomb erg's intention. It was possibly to create a panorama in which the perspective of the view is consistent through 360 degrees, necessitating that the curvature of the horizon, or a contrived artificial curvature, would have to be in- troduced into each drawing. Certainly, this curvature is apparent in T01965 and other drawings from the same period.

There is only one painting of London from this period known to Lilian Bomberg. It is based on a drawing in the same private collection: 'Evening in the City' 1944.

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

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