Like fruit, vegetables have been popular subjects with artists since the Romans frescoed their houses with images of food preparation (see the bulb of garlic in a wall painting, 50-75 AD, Getty Villa, Malibu). However, where fruit is decorative, colourful, and traditionally highly symbolic, vegetables tend to be painted because they are cheap and available, don’t degrade as fast as fruit and flowers, represent the humble and ordinary, and enable some subtle and earthy colour harmonies. Van Gogh, for instance, painted a wicker basket of carrots, leeks, potatoes and onions (1885, Landsberg/Lech), and Vanessa Bell includes a trug of vegetables in her wall painting of the Nativity, Berwick Church, Sussex (1940-42). Weissbort, like Bell, uses the handle and boat-like shape of the trug to full advantage here as a foil for the rounded shapes of onions and tomatoes, and plays the richer colours of beans and tomatoes against the subdued browns, from mushroom to chestnut, of the rest.
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.