Medium: Black chalk and wash on paper
Dimensions: 41.5 x 66.2 cm
Inscription: Signed and dated b.r. 'D. Bomberg 1914'
Acquired at Sotheby's in 2004 with assistance of the Art Fund, the HLF and the MLA/ V&A Purchase Grant Fund, The Julius Silman Charitable Trust, Pauline and Daniel Auerbach, Morven and Michael Heller and anonymous donors
In 1913 Bomberg visited Paris with Jacob Epstein, making contact with artists including Modigliani and Picasso. Racehorses, executed in the same year, demonstrates Bomberg’s understanding of the contemporary European avant-garde movements of Cubism, Futurism and the nascent English Vorticism. It is one of five works Bomberg exhibited in the ‘Jewish Section’ he co-curated with Epstein at the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s exhibition Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements in May 1914. His friend, fellow ‘Whitechapel Boy’ and racing enthusiast John Rodker reproduced Racehorses in The Dial Monthly, explaining that it depicted a paddock at a race meeting, that the two figures on the front right were bookies, those to their left spectators, and that the style was ‘cubist’.
Racehorses successfully combines modernist techniques representing the idea of movement and speed with allusions to older processes, like woodcuts (in the close-grained texture of the picture) and more recent ones like photography (in its monochrome colouring and grainy surface). Bomberg’s horses, with their erect, purposeful heads held high, and their stiff, unjointed legs striking out to create a series of sharp criss-cross diagonals, give an overwhelming impression of movement in the manner of the famous sequence Animals in Motion by the nineteenth-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge. The picture neatly illustrates Muybridge’s note that ‘during very rapid motion by a good horse, the aggregate of the body preserves a nearly horizontal line.’
David Bomberg was born in Birmingham in 1890, the fifth child in a Polish-Jewish immigrant family, but grew up in Whitechapel in the East End of London. He initially trained as a lithographer and studied art in evening classes under Walter Sickert and also worked as an artist’s model. A grant from the Jewish Education Art Society enabled him to study at the Slade School of Art from 1911-13 where he was seen as a ‘disturbing influence’.
During this time, he painted a series of complex geometric works – most famously Mud Bath and In the Hold – combining the influence of Cubism and Futurism. (The Futurists were fascinated by the dynamism of modern forms of machinery, transport and communication. One of their main interests was capturing a sense of movement in their works.) However, during World War l, Bomberg served on the Western front.
His experience of the destructive power of machines at war and the death of his brother in the trenches destroyed his faith in the machine age. After the war, his painting became rounded and more representational. He spent four years in Palestine concentrating on landscape painting and later lived in Spain, developing a more vigorous style with looser brushwork. He was an official war artist during the Second World War. After the war, he and his wife, artist Lilian Holt, founded the Borough Group (1948). He taught at the Borough Polytechnic, where his students included Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. In 1954, he settled in Spain.
Born: 1890 Birmingham, England
Died: 1957 London, England