Signed and inscribed on an artist’s label: Camels Resting / David Bomberg
Oil on canvas-board
31.7 x 40.5 cm. (12 ½ x 15 ¾ in.)
Vint Trust, by 1967;
Private Collection, UK;
Anonymous sale, Christie’s London, 29th September 2020, lot 63.
David Bomberg 1890 – 1957 Paintings and Drawings, exhibition catalogue, London 1967, p. 30, no. 48.
Tate Gallery, London, David Bomberg 1890 – 1957 Paintings and Drawings, March – April 1948, no. 48.
Though undated, this vibrant and spontaneous oil sketch of three resting camels was executed sometime during the four intense years Bomberg spent in Palestine between 1923 and 1927. These years witnessed a remarkable transformation in Bomberg’s style, a time prior to which the self-proclaimed ‘poor boy from the East End’ had ‘never seen the sunlight’. The harsh, bright light of the Near East had a profound effect on the artist’s palette, introducing dazzling tonalities into his work, such as the flash of pink which enlivens the present painting, one of the numerous and freely-painted oil sketches made by Bomberg in Palestine.
Up until the outbreak of the First World War, Bomberg had been the most radical and avant-garde young painter in Britain, creating a series of dynamically powerful near-abstract paintings which glorified the machine age. After the trauma of the Great War, during which his brother was killed and Bomberg shot himself in the foot, the artist searched for alternative, less harsh visions of the world. Shattered by the destruction wrought by war, Bomberg shunned his previously complex geometric style which evoked modernism in all its forms and, led by a burgeoning interest in the natural world, began exploring the countryside, and seeking redemption within it.
Ready for a new direction, Bomberg therefore reacted with enthusiasm when he was approached in 1923 by the Scottish artist Sir Muirhead Bone on behalf of the newly-formed Zionist Organisation to paint Jewish sites in the Holy Land (fig. 1). Of Polish-Jewish heritage, Bomberg himself was not a Zionist, yet welcomed the patronage as a chance of escaping the poverty to which he had hitherto been accustomed, as well as experiencing the transformative heat and sunlight of the Near East.
Fig. 1, David Bomberg, Jerusalem from Mount Scopas, 1925, oil on canvas,
57 x 75 cm,Tate Britain
Arriving in Jerusalem in April of 1923 with his wife Alice, Bomberg was immediately inspired by the nourishing luminosity of the city, allowing him to produce an extraordinary body of work over the next four years, consisting for the most part of detailed landscapes, as well as many oil sketches of great freedom. Palestine liberated Bomberg, a liberation clearly manifested in the loose, virtuoso brushstrokes which skilfully create the resting volumes of the camels, escaping from the heat which the artist must have taught himself to endure day after day whilst sketching what he saw around him. Indeed, camels, the essential mode of transport and haulage in the Palestine of the 1920s, were ubiquitous, and Bomberg was clearly intrigued by their odd and awkward forms, as a charcoal study of horizontal format in a private collection also attests (fig. 2)
Fig. 2, David Bomberg, Camels, 1925,
charcoal on paper, 65 x 52 cm,
Bomberg continued to be woefully neglected by the artistic establishment until the end of his life. By the time of his death in 1957 of cirrhosis of the liver, whilst in a state of near starvation, he had been virtually forgotten. And yet, only a day later a reverential obituary appeared in the Times newspaper, lauding Bomberg for his ‘independence of vision’. Bomberg’s reputation soared after his death and ten years later a major retrospective was held at the Tate, in which Camels Resting was exhibited. Today his status has been completely reassessed and Bomberg stands as one of the great masters of the 20th century.
 R. Cork, David Bomberg, exhibition catalogue, London 1988, p. 24.
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