Young Bomberg and the Old Masters review
Time Out says
There are a lot of limbs in David Bomberg’s paintings. Bent, angled, twisted body parts jut out at awkward angles as sweaty figures clamber over each other on the wrestling mat, in the tight hold of a ship or on the sticky floor of a sauna. These are paintings with the raw, bloody, masculine attention to sweat and skin seen in Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud, although Bomberg was painting at an earlier date than either (everything here’s from the 1910s) and his images are more geometric and abstract.
This free exhibition at the National Gallery shows how this radical, visceral (and often sorely underrated) artist was influenced by the big-name ‘greats’ of art history. It’s a convincing argument and one that could underpin a full-scale exhibition, as the accompanying catalogue, which goes beyond what’s on the walls here, suggests.
The problem is that it only gets one room. The old master-young Bomberg conversation is represented by one Botticelli self-portrait and one gorgeous El Greco that looks like hot wax dripped on to a slab of granite. The rest is Bomberg, either completed paintings or their corresponding studies (although you can use an app to further explore the historic artworks that caught Bomberg’s eye).
Does it matter that the curatorial framework gets kicked to the kerb in favour of these bombastic beauties? Nah. These colossus-sized paintings, which ripple with movement like ninety-thousand flags held aloft at Wembley Stadium, are superb. Simple as.
‘In the Hold’ is a terrifying vision of bodies grasping for a safe way off a boat, the dizzying claustrophobia of the image off-set by the crushed-jewel beauty of the colouring. The stark, outstretched jumble of nakedness in ‘The Mud Bath’ commemorates the purification of an East End bath house.
And they’re here! On display! For you to look at! Because if there’s one thing this miniature exhibition makes a massive case for, it’s the importance of free access to great art. You never know what it might inspire.