George Weissbort: Painter whose work was informed by his ultra-traditional approach

He would think nothing of sitting for hours in front of a single picture in the National Gallery

Recently, the art critic Brian Sewell wrote that George Weissbort “painted the right pictures at the wrong time”. He bore neglect stoically and with good humour. His “determined and utterly conscious” rejection of modernism and, indeed, of the modern world was reflected in the uncompromising traditionalism of his oil paintings – landscapes, still lifes and portraits. I took the painter Paula Rego to meet him at his London studio. Unerringly she picked up a very old notebook filled with witty drawings and sketches, seemingly influenced by playful artists like Klee and Miro. Noticing this, Weissbort swiftly ushered us back to the oil paintings made during the 50 years which followed the notebook, as if to say: I’ve moved on. She would describe him later as “a truly honest artist who knows so much about painting”.

Weissbort was brought to London in 1933 from Belgium, which his Polish-born Jewish parents had to leave. His father was a cultivated businessman with an East End knitware factory, his mother an educated and serious helpmeet and business partner. George and his younger brother Daniel, who was born in London and later became a well-known poet and translator, were raised bilingually in French and English in Swiss Cottage, then a major centre for mainly German Jewish refugees. A love of the arts and an awareness that the living of a good life somehow involved this love were central to the education of the two boys. They grew into adulthood with a clear sense of their own priorities. This did not involve the family business.

Mother and children were evacuated to Oxford. At some point Weissbort wandered into the Ashmolean Museum and saw a man copying an exhibit. The next day the teenager returned with a notebook and pen. For the next 73 years he never stopped drawing and painting. Later in the war he was introduced by a friend and slightly older contemporary, the future composer Joseph Horovitz, to the painter Arthur Segal, who was also living in Oxford. Segal, who had come to naturalism after experimenting with modernism, led Weissbort in the direction he already wanted to go.

After the war Weissbort attended Bernard Meninsky’s life classes at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and classes in oil painting by Ruskin Spear and Rodrigo Moynihan, presumably at the Royal College of Art. Oil painting became his obsession. In his own words: “I bought every treatise on the subject I could find, experimented with different oil-media, and consulted restorers at the National Gallery, the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre, to rediscover the technique of the Old Masters. I ground my own oil-colours, boiled my oils with driers etc, and prepared my own varnishes.”

A classic autodidact with a knowledge of art history to rival that of painters like Avigdor Arikha and Merlin James, he would think nothing (or everything) of spending several hours in front of a single favourite picture in the National Gallery: Vermeer, Titian, Chardin; looking at the picture, not necessarily copying it. He took pleasure in patiently educating lesser mortals, especially non-painters like me, who move on too quickly to the next picture, although his patience with the paintings themselves was surely unique even among painters.

Weissbort had one-man shows at Gallery Petit and Denise Yapp’s gallery and a retrospective at Chambers Gallery in 2006. He also participated in group shows, including at the Fine Arts Society. His work can be seen at Mark Mitchell’s gallery in London. He had shows in France, Belgium, Germany and Mexico, and he exhibited at the RA Summer Show for many years. Weissbort was also a professional portraitist – “as a rough guide, portraits take between six and 10 sittings” – whose subjects included his brother’s schoolfriend Jonathan Miller, Lord Shinwell and the former Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie.

In the 21st century, to paint wholly in the spirit, under the sign, of the Old Masters was, for this lonely and obsessive painter, a radical project of artistic reclamation and psychic renewal. The deep content of his work, rather than its subject matter, was a yearning for stability, order and harmony, qualities of life and art he spent a lifetime seeking. The work was a projection of his very being.  

“My approach to painting is as follows,” he wrote. “Starting with modern masters, like Cezanne and Matisse, I gradually moved backwards in time to my final lodestars Mantegna, Titian, Vermeer and Chardin. I work unremittingly, inspired by nature and my exemplars, trying continuously to improve, strenuously exploring the infinite worlds of line, shape, tone, form and colour, striving to combine emotion and reason, all the elements alive, developing systems governed by visual logic that could be analysed and discussed.”

George Weissbort, painter: born 11 April 1928; married firstly Yvonne Ingels (died 1996), secondly Rebecca Thomson; died Wye Valley, Gloucestershire July 9 2013.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin