Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson (eds), Bomberg, Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London, 2017, p.107, illustrated p.106.
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.
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