One of the artists who had an early influence on Weissbort was Cézanne, and this painting refers specifically to the latter’s Still life with plaster cupid in the Courtauld Gallery. Both use a statuette of a small boy on a table-top, accessorized with drapery and natural objects; Weissbort has, however, remade Cézanne’s work in the spirit of the 18th century Rococo, arranging the table symmetrically, viewing the statue frontally, and creating a stable and balanced composition in place of the shifting vertiginous planes of the Cézanne. It is almost as if Cézanne’s painting has been visualized through the eyes of Chardin, presenting a calm and rational version of what had been questing, experimental and urgent. Weissbort has also once more ‘feminized’ his subject, with brocade, pink roses, and soft warm tones replacing the severe blue cloth, geometric fruit forms and vibrating colours of Cézanne’s work.
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.