[1] Carel Weight RA, The Departing Angel, oil on canvas.
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

[2] Carel Weight RA, The Silence, oil on board, 1965
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

[3] Olwyn Bowey RA, Back view of Carel Weight painting, pencil on paper
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

Artist of the Month - September 2016


Carel Weight RA (1908-1997)

Carel Weight RA was a British figurative painter, teacher of art, and war artist. Born and based in London, Weight had an unconventional upbringing that exposed him to a world of polarities that is reflected in his work. His parents were hard working individuals, his father, Sidney, a bank clerk and his mother, Blanche, a chiropodist and manicurist to members of high-society London. They entrusted their son during the week to the care of a loving foster mother named Rose who lived with her mother. Raised by the two women in the impoverished and grim neighbourhood of World's End in Chelsea since he was only a few months old, Weight considered his foster mother his true family, and would feel uncomfortable returning home to the relative luxury of his parents' house on the weekends.

The contrast between his two homes and the lack of stability in his childhood contributed to Weight's sense of loneliness as a child which led him to retreat to his imagination and develop fantastical scenes peopled with invented figures, a feature that is carried through his entire artistic career. Although Weight had friends growing up, he nevertheless felt a sense of isolation, a mental state he explored deeply in his works.

Weight advocated an element of discipline in the study of art, and at the age of 18 trained at Hammersmith School of Art before enrolling at Goldsmith College. Courses at Hammersmith encouraged drawing from life, yet Weight preferred to "invent people" because he discovered that he could "draw people with little difficulty". Weight's figures, their expressive gestures, and psychology were always of interest, and he used landscapes and urban settings as platforms to pictorially tell stories, as seen in The Departing Angel [1].

Like many of Weight's paintings The Departing Angel is set in his Wandsworth garden. It presents the religious story of the Annunciation in a contemporary context. The angel Gabriel, depicted as a female figure, takes leave after addressing the Virgin, who seems bewildered by the news she has received. The Virgin sits on a simple patio chair but is given more prominence by being placed within the central section of the trellis which divides the wall into three parts. There is no communication between the two figures, only the stone lion appears to gaze at the disappearing apparition. Weight was not religious himself, he explained that 'religion in itself isn't that important to me, but it provides me with wonderful themes'. This work also illustrates Weight's visual interest in the interaction between figures, movement, and creating mysterious atmospheric scenes with palpable tension.

Weight was influenced by artists such as Edward Munch and James Ensor. In The Silence [2] from 1965, Weight paints three figures in his Battersea garden observing the two minutes silence on Remembrance Sunday. This painting addresses the theme of human isolation, which is central to Weight's work. Each figure was painted separately and never met. In this work Weight was able to elevate the mundane setting to create an atmospheric, unsettling scene by expressing "tense, theatrical, and dream-like" qualities.
Despite the seeming normality of Carel Weight's pictures, the visionary nature of his works and his ability to convey solitude lends to the haunting and captivating quality of his paintings that earned him the title the "Alfred Hitchcock of British painting". His paintings involve the viewer on an emotional level and challenge their imagination. Weight's meticulous observation of the natural world grounds his fantastical views to a specific time and place, cementing his status as one of the leading post-war British artists and influencing artists that followed him.

Weight also enjoyed paintings landscapes and this drawing by his fellow Academician, Olwyn Bowey RA, [3] shows the back of the artist at work. Olwyn recalled that Weight would go out to paint three times a day, in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. Bowey was taught by Weight when she was a student in the late 1950s at the Royal College of Art, London. She thinks that she possibly gave this drawing to Weight as a Christmas gift.

Growing up Weight would visit the annual Summer Exhibitions at the Royal Academy, and was first accepted to exhibit there in 1931. This prompted his first job offer by the Beckenham School of Art where he taught until the start of World War II. During the war Weight served as a war artist and many of these works are now in the Imperial War Museum. After the war, while still enlisted, Weight had the opportunity to travel across Italy and Greece, and see works by Giotto and Titian, the Vatican collection, and the Sistine Chapel. Weight considered this a "scholarship from the army". Upon returning to England Weight taught at the Royal College of Art (1957-1972) where his notable pupils included David Hockney and Peter Blake. During this time Weight regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy, and was the subject of three monographic shows at a gallery on Bond Street. Weight was elected an Academician in 1965.

The Silence and The Departing Angel can be seen on the free tours of the John Madjeski Fine Rooms