Two hundred and one

The Bath

1922 by David Bomberg
York Art Gallery

Bomberg studied at Slade School of Art before the First World War, working alongside many significant artists of the early twentieth-century such as Paul Nash and C. R. W. Nevinson (postcard 37); indeed, they both went on to become war artists. Nash and Nevinson were members of the Vorticist group, channeling their new streamlined and modernist style into a British branch of Futurism; later using this style to expose the harsh and unflinching realities of war. Bomberg too was heavily influenced by Cubism and was expelled from Slade in 1913 for his extreme and unconventional approach to painting. His early work was incredibly clinical compared to that of his post-war years, with strictly angled figures and block colour. War seemed to soften his approach and his painting reverted back to the more traditional dependencies of painterly colour and tone, leaning on the old perhaps to counter the modern atrocities he would have witnessed away from home. His painting The Bath does just this, taking people uncomplicated by society, showing them naked, exposed and cleansed; a family washes communally, united in the simplicity of their action. Bomberg’s figures still betray traces of his previous Cubist style, especially those to the left, their faces and hair pulled to be articulated through angles. Yet there is a baseness to these figures, an honesty in the face of the man who sits on the pump, one that acutely reflects Picasso’s years of African influence (see postcard 67). Skin is warm and earthly yellow, colour mottled and far from the block sheen of his previous paintings. Curves of the human body are accentuated, celebrated for their naturalism in a gesture that seeks to placate the ever-burning desire for the new and shiny by depicting what all and everyone have been doing for years.

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