Turner was God.
He thought Lucien Freud a boorish man and a clumsy painter. He particularly disliked the much-feted Large Interior W11 After Watteau. Their faces are all two inches in front of where they should be because he’s done them later and the woman on the left has a water pipe sticking out of her back.
David Hockney was ‘Old Hockney’. He liked his work but thought it was facile. He helped him to get started, beyond teaching him at the Royal College, but that’s another story.
Francis Bacon was also ‘Old Francis’. I think that they respected each other; certainly in public. He helped Bacon when in lowish water, organising free studio space for him at the Royal College. The College did all right, inheriting some large works when Bacon moved on.
Roger Hilton was ’that murderer’, a reference to the incident at the prize-giving for the John Moores competition in 1963, where Hilton won, got aggressively drunk and insulted the mayor’s husband, I think, who had a heart attack and died. His wife, Rose Hilton, was a much better painter. (I profoundly disagree.)
Stanley Spencer: a great painter but a puritan. He hated paint. Carel on the other hand loved nothing more than ‘pulling paint around’, stretching it thinly over the board, an example of the overlooked principle that you don’t have to lay it on with a trowel to be sensual with it.
John Bratby was the painter with the most innate ability that I taught – and the one who wasted it the most.
Camille Pissarro was the best of the Impressionists. There was a strong family connection, through Carel and Helen’s friendship with the granddaughter Orovida Pissarro, and Carel had several works by them both as well as the intermediate Lucien.
The second time I met Carel I got over-excited and referred to Henry Moore as a ‘pompous and sentimental old fraud’. I immediately apologised, thinking that they were probably friends. I can bear almost everything from Moore, said Carel, after considering the question – except his sheep.
Lawrence Gowing ‘gets absolutely everything wrong’, an epithet also used for the hapless Sir John Rothenstein.
He taught Ian Dury and they maintained a strong mutual respect. Dury called him ‘the Governor’. I found a copy of New Boots and Panties, Dury’s first solo album, among the Schubert and the opera in Carel’s living room. I asked if he liked it. I particularly like the song, said Carel, where he says ‘fuck’ a lot.
He had nothing against abstract painting. I’d love a Miro or a cubist Picasso. It’s just that the English don’t do abstract art very well. He was proud of teaching Albert Irvin though.
John Piper: a lovely man, except for his paintings.
Once I was with him at the Arts Club and he bumped into William Scott. They talked affectionately for a few minutes. He’s an old friend, said Carel afterwards, and a very good painter. I told the story later to Caryn Faure Walker, a friend of mine and someone with a decided view of how the art world should operate. You must be mistaken, she told me; Scott is an abstract painter and Weight is figurative.
(She was another of my sententious female friends, and although she was quite wrong about the relationship between Carel Weight and William Scott she taught me a lot about art, died tragically young and is much missed.)
He preferred Kossoff to Auerbach, which was a shame as it was Frank Auerbach who would loyally turn up for his private views.
I asked him whom he rated whose work was still affordable. George Chinnery, Ethel Walker, Thomas Hennell and Edward Stott, he said. And there was Denton Welch, but he was more a protégé of Helen’s.
Chinnery’s paintings were not affordable but his Chinese drawings would turn up from time to time for a few pounds at the Abbot and Holder gallery, and probably still do. Carel thought that Chinnery was in the very first rank of draftsmen. I have a Chinnery drawing that was misidentified by a Director of Christies as by Rembrandt.
Ethel Walker is now deeply unfashionable, but she was made a Dame for her art, either the first or the second (depending (I forget and it doesn’t really matter) on Laura Knight’s timing) and she was a lesbian in the grand style, tweeded and assertive. Carel was amused by the fact that I would visit his studio, still quite young, have tea and buy work directly from him and forty years before he had done the same with her. At the end, nearing ninety, her mind went. On one occasion, he told me, she removed her tweeds and started on her foundation garments, crying, See! I still have the body of a young woman.
Hennell was also tweeded and assertive, cycling furiously round north Kent painting visionary landscape watercolours. Unfortunately the only book on him, by Michael MacLeod, doggedly misses the visionary quality. He was killed as a War Artist, facing down Communist insurgents in Malaya, armed, I like to think, only with his Lee Enfield and his fierce half-mad stare.
Stott, a contemporary of and not to be confused with William Stott of Oldham, was killed in the First World War. His paintings go for a lot of money but his drawings and pastels, dreamy and Munch-like without the angst, can be found cheaply.
Actually, Abbott and Holder is the best place for all four: Chinnery, Walker, Hennell and Stott.
There will be much more of this, I’m sure: in particular Carel’s loyalty to his preferred students.