Untitled composition, 1912
Framed (ref: 2634)
Signed and dated on the reverse
Oil on board, 19 1/2 x 26 3/4 in. (49.5 x 68 cm.)
Provenance: The Artist's daugher Theodora Winsten
This painting was recently featured in The Forced Journey: Artists in Exile in Britain, c.1933-45, Ben Uri Gallery/London Jewish Museum of Art, (Sarah MacDougall).
This painting was recently featured in The Forced Journey: Artists in Exile in Britain, c.1933-45, Ben Uri Gallery/London Jewish Museum of Art, (Sarah MacDougall). The following is an extract from the catalogue by Sarah MacDougal which accompanied the show: "...the device of figures emerging from a grid was used several times in contemporaneous works by Bomberg including Island of Joy (c.1912), Study for Vision of Ezekiel (c.1912) and Vision of Ezekiel (1912, fig. 12). In Birnberg's composition, a larger figure, presumably an adult, cradles a smaller one, presumably a child, anticipating Bomberg's studies for In the Hold (1913-14), which show a child being passed over the heads of the passengers (or shipbuilders) emerging from the grid-like hold. In Birnberg's second untitled composition (Untitled Figure Study, c.1912, fig. 23), both technique and execution are more sophisticated and the composition is more finished than in her previous work. The figures appear to be actively struggling, locked in combat as their limbs thrash against a backdrop of black and green. In both studies, the figures push against the edges of the composition and spill over, still struggling. It is likely that the subjectmatter is biblical and it appears to relate closely to Bomberg's Island of Joy. Birnberg employs the same colouring for her figures, though they are not specifically grounded in the East End like Bomberg's dockers. The presence of a grid anticipates Bomberg's Mud Bath (1914). While Bomberg moved closer to abstraction however, Birnberg's design remains essentially figurative. Her composition lacks the complexity of Bomberg's but is nonetheless taut and controlled. Like Bomberg, she shared with the nascent Vorticists a certain restlessness and dynamism in her active, colourful forms, but she appears to have stopped at this point, retreating from total abstraction. It is impossible to know how closely she worked alongside Bomberg at this time, particularly since their relationship ended badly. Whatever really passed between them, Birnberg genuinely believed that `her painting - freedom of mark and "inspiration" [had been] taken by Bomberg', and her bitterness against him rankled to the end of her life. Stephen Chaplin has noted the influence of the European modernists in Winsten's drawings: `Those which appear to be early share a rhythmic simplification with the generation of GaudierBrzeska, and a heritage from Brancusi, Picasso of around 1908, and Matisse of the "Dance"'. Many of these were shown at the Strang in 1994 but were not photographed and most are no longer in the public domain." We are grateful to Sarah MacDougal for assistance.