Bomberg's relationship with the Spanish town of Ronda spans two distinct periods of his life and at both times he found there an inspiration that was to bring forth some of his best work.
Having worked in Toledo in 1929, Bomberg returned to Spain in 1934, and initially painted in the town of Cuenca. He then moved on to Ronda, and found that the drama of the setting, the old town sitting atop a natural high cliff, and rent by the gorge of the Tajo which was spanned by the almost improbably theatrical Puente Nuevo, completely fulfilled his search for a location where he could immerse himself.
This first visit inspired some incredible work, both in and around the town, but the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War drove Bomberg and his family back to England in 1936. He was not to return until 1954 when, straightened by age and the lack of appreciation for his work at home, he sought to recapture the vision of those earlier years.
The paintings that date from this second period first strike the viewer with their boldness. The intervening years had seen Bomberg continue to strive to get to the heart of any subject he approached, and this concentration on the essential elements brought colour and dynamism to the fore, and no subject in the town was likely to reveal such qualities as the soaring bridge and plunging gorge. The present painting returns to almost exactly the same spot from which he had painted almost twenty years before, as in Ronda Bridge (Pallant House Gallery, Chichester) of 1935, but whilst the general outline of the scene is similar, the older Bomberg concentrates purely on the heady mixture of colour and vertiginous awe that the view presents to the viewer. The bridge itself has been reduced to a cypher, defined not by its architectural features but by the blue sky that bursts through its arches. At each side, the cliffs are formed from sweeps of hot yellow, red and orange paint that seek not to modulate the rock face but to thrill us with the sense of drama inherent as we look at the sun-beaten gorge soaring above us.
Before returning to Spain, Bomberg had become a respected and influential teacher in London, where his pupils had included the youthful Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. Bomberg sought to set up a painting school now in Ronda, but like so many of his schemes throughout his life, it foundered almost as it began. However, some of his former pupils had followed him to Spain, and in what were to be his last years he was able to work alongside other artists to whom he was a shining example of the devotion and courage a great artist needs. His final painting of Ronda,Tajo and Rock, Ronda (Pallant House Gallery, Chichester) is alive with colour and movement, yet delves deep into the substance of its subject to carry the viewer into the experience of the place.
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