“My object is the construction of Pure Form. I reject everything in painting that is not Pure Form”
Born to Polish-Jewish parents, David Bomberg was brought up in poverty in Whitechapel, London. He became close to fellow artists Mark Gertler, Isaac Rosenberg and Jacob Kramer, forming the ‘Whitechapel Boys’. In 1911 Bomberg began his studies at Slade School of Fine Art, under the tutelage of Walter Richard Sickert, and his style developed to combine cubism and futurism. In 1913 Bomberg was expelled from Slade and travelled to Paris with Jacob Epstein, where he met Derain, Modigliani and Picasso. His visual language stood out from his contemporaries in British art, fusing the European avant-garde he discovered with his Jewish heritage.
During World War I Bomberg served with the Royal Engineers in the trenches. Influenced by the ‘machine age’, in the immediate post-war years his work focused on angular formed hinged around figuration. Painted in 1919, Figure Composition displays a bridge between Bomberg’s earlier and later styles. The strong geometric forms and blocks of bold colour reference his earlier paintings and the influences of Cubism, while the less graphic tone is more akin to his work of the 1920s.
Bomberg created many series of paintings in his career such as Barges, Bomb Store and Ghetto Theatre. Figure Composition is part of his Stable Interior series. Composed of at least four works all created in 1919, this series examines the abstracted figure in a striking vertical format. One example from this series, Horses and Riders is now held in the collection of the Harris Museum.
Although he was widely exhibited and an influential teacher at Borough Polytechnic in London (1945-53), where his pupils included Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, Bomberg died in poverty in 1957. There have been several major retrospectives of Bomberg’s work including at 1988 show at Tate curated by Richard Cork and at Pallant House, Chichester in 2017. Bomberg’s works are in many major international institutions, with both MoMA and Tate holding examples from 1919.