This is an early example of Weissbort’s work, executed either when he was still a student or just after. It is clear that he has been studying Cézanne’s still life paintings very closely, but here he is not imitating the master’s watercolour technique; surprisingly, he is producing an homage to the oil paintings but in the medium of gouache (or water- and body- colour). The robust, opaque qualities of this paint allow him to render the forms of fruit, jug and drapery in the same blocky brushwork as he would have used in an oil painting, whilst retaining the clarity and some of the transparency of pure watercolour. As in Cézanne’s Fruit, milk jug and napkin, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, Weissbort sets the straight lines of the cylindrical jug against the globes of the fruit and the fortuitous folds of the soft fabric. We see him establishing form and plasticity, and the relationship of objects in space; – yet the result is not an exercise but a satisfying and aesthetically balanced painting.
George Weissbort (1928-2013) was born in Belgium and moved to London at the age of 7. He attended the Central School of Art & Design (now St Martin’s) where he was taught by Ruskin Spear and Rodrigo Moynihan. He was influenced by Arthur Segal to move from the abstract expressionism of the 1940s to realism, and by Bernard Meninsky, who taught life drawing at the Central School, to study the Old Masters. He turned first to artists such as Cézanne and Matisse, and later to Vermeer, Chardin, Velasquez, Corot, Titian, Holbein, and Piero della Francesca, amongst others.
He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Fine Art Society. In 1964-65 he had a large exhibition in Paris, and in 2006 he had a one-man retrospective at the Chambers Gallery, London, followed in 2008 by another at the Denise Yapp Gallery, Whitebrook, Monmouth.
He wrote essays on art and criticism which look both at the techniques of making a painting, and of appreciating a work of art. The latter skill he believed came only after years of consciously training the eye to see as the artist saw, considering for example the ‘negative’ spaces around and between objects. He also discussed the work of specific artists, such as Lucien Freud and Vermeer.
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’.
Publications: George Weissbort, Paintings and Drawings (Parnassus, 2008), ill. 130 colour plates; includes transcripts of a filmed interview; essays by Tony Rudolph, David Lee and Bernard Dunstan RA.
YouTube video: A tribute to George Weissbort by John French.