Lot 7
  • 7

DAVID BOMBERG | Mount Zion with the Church of the Dormition: Moonlight

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
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  • David Bomberg
  • Mount Zion with the Church of the Dormition: Moonlight
  • signed and dated 23
  • oil on canvas
  • 40.5 by 51cm.; 16 by 20in.


Leicester Galleries, London
Acquired from the above by Ben Uri Gallery and Museum in 1928


London, Leicester Galleries, Paintings of Palestine and Petra, February 1928, cat. no.39; 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Israel Zangwill Memorial Exhibition, 24th November - 1st December 1935, cat. no.31 (as Moonlight in Jerusalem); 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by AA Wolmark, Dobrinksy-Paris and Selected Works from the Ben Uri Art Collection, 11th February - 4th March 1945, cat. no.67 (as Moonlight in Jerusalem); 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Ben Uri Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, 25th March - 14th April 1946 (as Moonlight, Jerusalem);
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Subjects of Jewish Interest: Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, 5th December 1946 - 5th January 1947; 
London, North Western Reform Synagogue in association with the Ben Uri Art Gallery, Exhibition of Jewish Art Arranged by the Ben Uri Gallery, 26th - 27th December 1948, cat. no.1 (as Moonlight in Jerusalem);
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Festival of Britain: Anglo-Jewish Exhibition 1851-1951, 9th July - 3rd August 1951, cat. no.13; 
Cape Town, Cape Council, Jewish Art Exhibition, 29th October - 14th November 1951, cat. no.5; 
Cambridge, Heffer Art Gallery, David Bomberg, May - June 1954, cat. no.8; 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Fortieth Anniversary Exhibition: Selected Works, 19th June - 24th July 1956;
London, Arts Council, David Bomberg 1890-1957: An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, 1958, cat. no.13; 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Selections from the Permanent Collection, 1960, cat no.11 (as Moonlight in Jerusalem);
London, Tate, Paintings and Drawings by David Bomberg 1890-1957, March - April 1967, cat. no.81; 
Embassy of Israel, December 1974 (details untraced);
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, David Bomberg in Palestine, 1923-27, Autumn 1983, cat. no.15;
London, The Arts Council, David Bomberg 1890-1957: Paintings and Drawings, 1967, cat. no.41;
New York, The Jewish Museum, Immigrant Generations: Jewish Artists in Britain 1900-1945, 24th May - 25th September 1983; 
London, Tate, David Bomberg, 17th February - 8th May 1988, cat. no.81;
Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery, The Pursuit of the Real: British Figurative Painting from Sickert to Bacon, 10th March - 22nd April 1990, cat. no.11, with tour to Barbican Art Gallery, London and Glasgow City Art Gallery, Glasgow;
London, Gillian Jason Gallery, David Bomberg: Centenary Exhibition: Works on Paper, 28th November - 11th January 1991, cat. no.87, with tour to Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth;
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, The Modern and the New, 2004 (details untraced);
Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, David Bomberg: Spirit in the Mass, 17th July - 28th October 2006, cat. no.15; 
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Bomberg’s Relevance, 14th August - 2nd September 2007;
London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, Homeless & Hidden 1, 29th January - 24th February 2009; 
London, Christie's South Kensington, 100 for 100: Ben Uri, Past, Present, Future, 21st May - 9th June 2016;
Eastbourne, Towner Gallery, David Bomberg: A Sense of Place, 9th July - 11th September 2016;
Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, Bomberg, 21st October 2017 - 4th February 2018, with tour to The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle and Ben Uri Gallery, London.


Richard Cork, David Bomberg, Yale University Press, London and New Haven, 1987, pp.151-152, illustrated p.152;
Walter Schwab and Julia Weiner (eds), Jewish Artists: The Ben Uri Collection – Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Sculpture, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum in association with Lund Humphries, London, 1987, p.28; Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson (eds), Bomberg, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London, 2017, p.107, illustrated p.106.


The canvas is original and there is a very minor instance of undulation to the centre. There is some very light surface dirt and studio detritus. This excepting the work appears to be in excellent overall condition. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals two small areas of possible historic retouching, in the lower third of the extreme right edge, and in the extreme lower left corner, and to the sky in the upper right quadrant, that have been very sensitively executed. The work is held within a carved gilt wood frame. Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The four years Bomberg spent in Palestine between 1923 and 1927 have come to be recognised as among the most significant of his working life. Although his initial purpose was to undertake commissioned work from the Palestine Foundation Fund (Keren Hayesod) much of the most considerable work of this sojourn was to be produced beyond the narrow confines of manual labour and agriculture which Keren Hayesod wanted to celebrate. Excited at the opportunity to leave England behind after the First World War and to develop artistically following some harsh journalistic criticism, most recently at an unsuccessful show at Mansard Gallery, the opportunity to depict, what was to Bomberg, an entirely new world came at a fitting juncture. His exposure to new sights, colours and shapes was transformational. The works of this period are typified by their use of earthy, ochre colours, with landscapes bathed in the baking sunshine; leaving behind the vorticist forms of his pre-war years and the subsequent angular, coarse compositions of the post-war years. This new visual language should be seen in conjunction to the new world that Bomberg found himself in: by separating himself from London and the milieu to which he was accustomed, Bomberg could reinvent his art, and reflect his new reality. Of his new working methods, one technique that Bomberg particularly favoured in this environment was painting outside at night time. The implementation of this technique is particularly evident in the cool, silvery palette of the present work. As opposed to the ochre tones of the ‘daytime’ pictures, the contrast between the buildings and the sky is greatly enhanced and the shadows fall gently over the fields and walls. The parched landscape is transformed to a darker, gentler surface enhanced by long, sweeping brushstrokes. The decision to paint works by moonlight is also reflective of Bomberg’s decision to focus his attentions on the structure, light and colours of the landscape and to jettison his previous engagement with figural compositions.

Painting by night also proved to have professional benefits to Bomberg; whilst painting the present work he encountered British Government Architect, Austen Harrison, who grew to become a dedicated patron. Harrison also introduced Bomberg to a wide range of other British dignitaries in Palestine (such as Sir Ronald Storrs (1881–1955) Military Governor of Jerusalem), many of whom became enthusiastic collectors and patrons of Bomberg’s work, and his topographical painting specifically.

Many of the works which Bomberg produced during this period were not always enthusiastically received by Keren Hayesod. Bomberg was criticised for producing works that were‘not typically Jewish’, including a ‘prominent Christian monastery and an Anglican church’ (Colonel Frederick Kisch, quoted in Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson, Bomberg, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London, 2017, pp.112-6).  However, his work evolved considerably and his output in Cyprus and Ronda is utterly indebted to the time he spent in the Middle East. It enabled him to fall in love with the art of landscape painting, to develop an understanding of colour and experience the artistic power of light - elements that characterise his best works.

Upon his return to England in 1928 Bomberg was able to exhibit the present work at the Leicester Galleries, showcasing the full range of the works and styles that he had produced in the Middle East. Amongst the buyers was Ben Uri who acquired the present work. Unfortunately, however, the subject matter seemed alien to much of the buying public in London and sales were not as strong as he had hoped. Journalists were divided, Whitechapel Art Gallery’s director Bryan Robertson observed that: ‘on his return from Palestine, Bomberg was hailed by the decorous as having “arrived” and by the more gifted wild trumpeters as having “lost face”’ (ibid. p.125).

The Church of the Dormition is positioned on the site that is traditionally identified as the location at which the Virgin Mary’s earthly existence ended. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy the words ‘sleeping’ or ‘falling asleep’ are frequently used as synonyms for ‘death’, and the Church gains its association with Dormition through this translation. This Church derives further significance from its proximity to the site of David’s Tomb and the Last Supper, both housed within the David’s Tomb Compound. The belltower of the Church of the Domition was positioned such that its shadow would never land on the Compound, which comprises two of the most significant sites in Judaic and Christian worship. When Bomberg produced the present work the church depicted was less than twenty years old, but was the fourth religious building to have occupied the space since the early fifth century AD. The land had been acquired by the German Kaiser Wilhem II in 1898 for the purpose of building a new abbey on the historic site, and, following a decade of construction, the Church was completed in 1910.