David Bomberg

The Mud Bath


David Bomberg 1890–1957
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1524 × 2242 mm
frame: 1718 × 2427 × 70 mm
Purchased 1964

Display caption

Bathing figures were a traditional way of depicting the nude, but here Bomberg brings the subject into the modern era by basing the scene on steam baths used by the local Jewish population near Bomberg’s home in east London. Bomberg was closely associated with a group of artists known as the vorticists. Their aim was to create art that expressed the modern world through imagery derived from machines and the urban environment. Here Bomberg reduces the human figure to a series of geometric shapes, a process he described as ‘searching for an intenser expression … where I use Naturalistic Form I have stripped it of all irrelevant matter.’

Gallery label, January 2019

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Catalogue entry

David Bomberg 1890–1957

T00656 The Mud Bath 1914

Inscr. ‘No. 1 Mud-Bath David Bomberg’ on back of canvas (before relining).
Canvas, 60 x 88¼ (152 x 224).
Purchased from the artist’s widow through Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. (Grant-in-Aid) 1964.
Exh: Chenil Gallery, July 1914; Coventry, September 1960; Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., March 1964 (3, repr. in colour).
Lit: Max Wykes-Joyce in Arts Review, XVI, No. 6, 1964, p. 5, repr. p. 4 (in colour).

When ‘The Mud Bath’ was first exhibited at the Chenil Gallery, it was ‘hung outside the Gallery premises that it may have every advantage of lighting and space’. Two preparatory works, ‘Study for mud bath’ (T01963) and ‘Mud bathers’, were also included. In the Foreword the artist wrote: ‘I appeal to a Sense of Form. In some of the works I show in the first room, I completely abandon Naturalism and Tradition. I am Searching for an Intenser expression. In other work in this room, where I use Naturalistic Form, I have stripped it of all irrelevant matter.

‘I look upon Nature, while I live in a steel city, where decoration happens, it is accidental. My object is the construction of Pure Form.’ A study for ‘The Mud Bath’ was also in the Marlborough Fine Art exhibition, 1964 (2, repr.).

Mrs. Lilian Bomberg told the compiler that she had heard that a mud bath had in fact been opened by a Russian in the East End of London about the time the picture was painted. The Jewish Chronicle of 5 June 1964 confirmed that this was Schevzilk’s steam baths in Brick Lane, which were destroyed by fire in the last war.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1964–1965, London 1966.

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