Themes of Migration in the Bomberg’s life and work / by Theresa Kneppers

Abraham Bomberg immigrated to Whitechapel in London to escape the Russian and Polish pogroms of the 1880s. The pogroms were large scaled repeated Anti-Jewish riots and attacks that targeted the Jewish population in the Russian Empire after the empire had been expanded to include areas from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Ukraine.

The Bomberg family were Polish-Jews and started a new life in Great Britain. First they settled in Whitechapel, but after some time the growing family was forced to move around Great Britain for a while in search of better paid work. It was during this time, in 1890, that David Bomberg was born in Birmingham. In 1895 the family that would eventually consist of eleven children altogether moved back to London’s East End finally settling in Whitechapel.

The area was largely Jewish at the time and the Bomberg children grew up as Orthodox Jews.  David Bomberg lived with his family until shortly after the death of his mother in 1912.

Bomberg’s family history is one of migration and for some time, a constant travelling from place to place. The first major move from the Russian Empire to London followed by the movement around Great Britain before ultimately returning to Whitechapel in London and settling there.

Bomberg’s later life was also characterised by migration and moving from place to place. Some of his first international experiences were in France during World War I. This experience had a massive impact on Bomberg and his works changed drastically following the war. After this, Bomberg relocated a number of times within the UK and internationally. First, he moved to Alton, Hampshire for a two year time period, after which he travelled to Palestine for four years. After spending years painting in Palestine, Bomberg returned to London in 1927. In 1933, he visited Russia for six months followed by a yearlong stay in various parts of Spain. Again he returned to London, before moving to a cottage in Essex. In 1954, Bomberg moved to Ronda in Spain and lived there until his death in 1957. All this was intersected by shorter trips around Great Britain and international trips, primarily to mainland Europe, such as Paris and Switzerland, but also to the islands of Greece and Cyprus and going to Morocco in North Africa.

Most of these international stays and trips were painting expeditions and his work was directly influenced by his time spent in these places. Other than motives, his painting techniques were influenced by his time in other countries. Before the war, cubism, futurism, and the vorticist movement heavily influenced him. After the war, his paintings became more representational and rounded. During his time in Palestine, Bomberg turned to landscape painting and during his prolonged time in Spain, his style became more vigorous and with looser brush strokes.

Migration to and from Britain shaped Bomberg’s upbringing and continued in his own life.

We are looking forward to working with artist Penny Ryan, King’s College London and the Migration Museum in Lambeth on the Moving Hearts project where we will be hosting one of many workshops throughout London.

More information about the workshop at:

Sources and further reading:

Lipke, William. (1967) David Bomberg a critical study of his life and work by William Lipke: London: Evelyn, Adams & Mackay Ltd