David Bomberg was one of Anglo-Jewry’s greatest artists. Although when he died in 1957, his name was little-known, the publication of a monograph about him in 1987 and a major exhibition at Tate Britain in 1988 finally brought the admiration his work deserved.
For years, he struggled to make a living, applying for dozens of teaching jobs, but was only ever offered short-term assignments. However, in 1945 he began teaching at the Borough Polytechnic, on the south bank of the Thames, and taught there until 1953 when his contract was not renewed. His teaching has been described by art historian Richard Cork as “one of the most significant and consistently adventurous classes in post-war British art education”. Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff were among his students.
This week a new gallery opens at South Bank University — the modern incarnation of Borough Polytechnic — which showcases his work and that of five of his students. Situated three floors down from the studio on Borough Road where he taught, the gallery will show selected drawings and paintings from a collection of over 150 works built up over the past 30 years by independent collector Sarah Rose.
Rose was born in Australia to Jewish parents who had emigrated there from Latvia and Odessa. She and her husband moved to Britain in 1951 and shortly afterwards she met one of Bomberg’s students, Cliff Holden.
“He introduced me to Bomberg’s work” she recalls. “I had never heard of him in Australia but it was an eye-opening experience for me.” She became fascinated by Bomberg’s teaching methods and wanted to bring them to a wider audience by building up a collection of his paintings and those artists who studied with him.
Seven years ago, she fixed on the idea of giving the collection to South Bank University and the new gallery was made possible by a grant of £238,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Despite the fact it has taken her so long to realise her dream, she claims that “what I did was the easy part. It’s been nothing like the difficulties and frustrations that the artists had to suffer”.