David Bomberg

Trees in Sun, Cyprus


Not on display

David Bomberg 1890–1957
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 639 × 765 mm
frame: 815 × 935 × 95 mm
Purchased 1992


Despite the considerable acclaim David Bomberg had received as a young painter before the First World War (1914-18), by the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-45) his work was out of favour with most critics. Although the War Artists Advisory Committee had awarded him one modest commission in 1942, the organisation's very limited patronage did little to lessen the difficulties he had making a living as an artist. With the end of the war, teaching posts became available and in August 1945 he secured a part-time position teaching Fine Art at Borough Polytechnic in London. His unconventional teaching techniques and commitment to painting inspired such loyalty among his students that a handful banded together to form the Borough Group. In the catalogue for their first exhibition, which was held in 1947 at the Archer Gallery on Westbourne Grove in London, they declared that the Group had been 'founded on the belief that there is in nature a truth and a realism which the usual contemporary approach to painting is unable to convey' (quoted in Cork 1987, p.270). This statement which was written by Bomberg, reflected his belief that in a technological age often characterised by alienation and destruction, humanity needed to reconnect with Nature. For him landscape painting, once released from the stultifying conventions of academicism, could provide this link. His own vigourous, almost gestural paintings were expressions of the life force coursing through him and the organic matter he depicted.

In the summer of 1946 David Bomberg went on holiday in North Devon. During his two weeks there he painted several landscapes and so resumed a practice he had abandoned almost ten years earlier. The following summer he visited Zennor in Cornwall and painted some more landscapes. Then in 1948, Leslie Marr, his son-in-law and student at Borough Polytechnic, offered to pay for a family holiday to a destination of Bomberg's choice. He chose Cyprus having been told about it by an architect who had a practice in Lapithos. The family set off in July and spent several weeks on the island.

Trees in Sun was not intended to be a topographically accurate depiction of a particular part of the Cypriot countryside. Instead, as with his earlier landscape paintings, Bomberg sought to reveal the underlying structure of the land and give a sense of its character and spirit. The fiery colours, the range of textures and vigorous marks imbue the painting with an overwhelming sense of movement and vitality that is in keeping with Bomberg's own view of nature and how it should be represented. In the third Borough Group exhibition held at the Arcade Gallery, London in the spring of 1949, there were as many as ten paintings by Bomberg and among them were some of his Cyprus paintings. The artist and critic, Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), reviewing the exhibition praised Bomberg and declared that the group's members were 'rip-roaring flaming romantics' (quoted in Cork 1987, p.280).

Most of Bomberg's Cyprus pictures were painted at the Monastery of Ayios Chrisostomos, where the family stayed for part of the holiday, but Trees in Sun was painted en plein air during a day trip from Lapithos. On his return from Cyprus, Bomberg resumed his teaching at Borough Polytechnic, but did not paint again for another four years.

Further reading:
Richard Cork, David Bomberg, New Haven and London 1987, reproduced p.284, colour plate 57
Richard Cork, David Bomberg, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1988
William Lipke, David Bomberg, London 1967, pp.94-7

Toby Treves
July 2001

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Display caption

During the Second World War, Bomberg worked on paintings of a Bomb Store and made studies of flowers. After the war he returned to the theme of landscape, firstly on painting expeditions to North Devon and Cornwall in 1946 and 1947 respectively, and then in Cyprus in the summer of 1948. In Cyprus Bomberg was inspired by the bright Mediterranean light and produced a series of 'fiery' landscapes. These Cyprus paintings are composed of loose, fluid brushstrokes which are almost abstract in their handling. Paradoxically they serve to emphasise the sense of the forms of the topography with a great intensity.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The canvas was prepared by stretching a commercially primed linen canvas with a white oil ground onto a stretcher and adding a further layer of white lead oil paint. This increased the whiteness of the preparation and reduced the amount of canvas texture. Bomberg often reprimed commercial canvases in this manner.

Painted in artists' oil colours, the painting was carried out in two distinct phases. The initial layer appears to be an almost homogeneous thin layer of predominantly umber colour. Onto this the main painting was done in paints rich in medium, applied vigorously and fluidly, often intermixing the colours on the canvas. Although in many areas the brushmarks in the fluid paint levelled out before it dried in the most intricate areas crisp peaks of impasted paint remain.

Prior to acquisition the painting had been given a thin coat of varnish and was framed in a dark carved frame. Its general condition is good and on acquisition it only required removal of surface dirt and minor improvements to the frame.

Roy Perry

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