George Weissbort, Self portrait with beard, 1973
George Weissbort, whose work we are delighted to present in our gallery, sadly died during the summer, aged 85. A charming man, his knowledge of the Old Masters was informed by hours (literally hours) of studying them closely, and reflecting on aspects such as their tonal construction, the quality of the line, and the ‘negative spaces’ around and between objects.
George Weissbort, Forest clearing, Vienna
He was born in Belgium in 1928, but his parents brought him and his younger brother to London in 1935. He began to draw seriously at the age of twelve, and although he was first drawn to the excitement of abstract expressionism, contact with Arthur Segal in Oxford during the war reaffirmed his natural bent towards realism. After the war he attended the Central School of Art & Design (now Central St Martin’s), and was taught by Ruskin Spear and Rodrigo Moynihan. Bernard Meninsky, who taught life drawing at the Central School, also introduced him to study of the Old Masters. His tastes moved back in time from the work of Cézanne and Matisse to Corot, Chardin, Vermeer, Velasquez, Holbein, Titian and Piero della Francesca, amongst others.
Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533, National Gallery, London
As he states in one of his essays, at one point ‘Jean de Dinteville’s dagger tassel in the National Gallery’s The Ambassadors was my favourite passage-ground in all European painting’. He was capable of remaining patiently in front of such a detail for long periods – or even for days – minutely observing the methods by which his preferred artists achieved their results. He was equally interested in another branch of the process, and experimented with his own pigments and media, grinding his colours and mixing oils in varying quantities. His approach to art, in other words, was as close as possible to that of a 15th century painter in a Renaissance workshop, and the results provided an island of intellectual integrity amongst the furore of contemporary art.
George Weissbort, Still life with onion plaits, wooden cheese box, fruit & a bottle, s.& d. 1957
His obituary in The Independent quotes Brian Sewell, a friend, as saying of him that Weissbort ‘painted the right pictures at the wrong time’. His appeal was to those who understood his models and influences; he could be described as a painter’s painter, and the same obituary quotes Paula Rego describing him as ‘a truly honest artist who knows so much about painting’.
George Weissbort, In the studio: a break for Pepsi, s.& d. 1979
His friend John French made a short film about him, just before his death; this can be seen on YouTube: it penetrates the crowded room where he painted, watches him at work, and also features his cousin, the collector Daniel Wargon, discussing Weissbort’s life, his approach to painting, his success in Paris in the 1960s, and his feeling of disenfranchisement from the obsessions of modern art. As Weissbort himself said,
‘Real art’ is very difficult to appreciate… ‘contemporary art’ is very easy.
George Weissbort, The rooftops of Ostend, s.& d. 1965
George Weissbort ( b. 1928; d. 9th July 2013)