Picture of the Month

Ghetto Theatre by David Bomberg

Ghetto Theatre, David Bomberg, 1920

Ghetto Theatre by David Bomberg
1920,Oil on canvas,74.4 x 62 cm

David Bomberg was born on 5 December 1890. He was a founder member of The London Group and one of its most uproarious members.

He studied at the Slade School of Art, but enlisted in November 1915; his harrowing war experiences included the death of his brother and a self-inflicted wound. After returning to active service, he produced a painting for the Canadian War Memorials Fund – a difficult and dispiriting commission.

Bomberg’s masterly Ghetto Theatre captures his dismal, postwar vision. Painted on the eve of his departure from the East End, its dark, savage brilliance contrasts vividly with his animated pre-war theatre studies.

The composition is boldly bisected by an imposing balcony rail that cleaves the Jewish theatre audience in two, separating them both from each other and the viewer, and trapping them in their seats; the sense of unease increased by the vertiginous, almost vertical diagonal.

It is the spectators, not the actors, who portray the drama. Drably dressed, their mask-like faces and closed body language exude disappointment, symbolised by the hunched figure leaning wearily on a stick – symptomatic of Bomberg’s own disillusionment.

Ghetto Theatre was presented by David Bomberg to Ben Uri in the 1920s, shortly after it was exhibited.

Video content about Ghetto Theatre by David Bomberg

Sarah MacDougall – curator of Uproar!: The first 50 years of The London Group 1913-1963 (1 November 2013 – 2 March 2014) – , discusses David Bomberg’s Ghetto Theatre within the context of his contemporaries Walter Sickert and William Roberts.