A unique painter of enigmatic, odd dramas in which exotic events can get transplanted to the suburbs, Carel Weight’s influence as professor of painting ensured he was regarded as a precursor for the revival of interest in expressionist painting. Carel Weight was born on 10 September 1908 in Paddington, London. The only child of Sidney L Weight, a bank cashier, and Blanche Harriet Caroline, a chiropodist and manicurist of German descent, Carel Weight spent much of his childhood living with a widowed acquaintance, Rose Matkin, as an unofficial foster mother due to his parents’ working and social commitments. Carel Weight was educated at Sloane Secondary School and in 1926, at the age of eighteen, entered Hammersmith School of Art. Here he met Ruskin Spear, who would become a lifelong friend, and studied under the tutelage of Clive Gardiner and James Bateman. In 1929, he was offered a scholarship by the Royal College of Art, but as it came with no grant, Weight was forced to turn it down as his parents refused to continue funding his artistic training. Instead, with £25 borrowed from a friend, he mounted an exhibition of his work in an upstairs room at the Cooling Galleries on Bond Street.
A notice written in the Observer made the exhibition a success, and on the proceeds Weight was able to follow his teacher James Bateman to Goldsmiths’ College School of Art, where he studied two days a week from 1930 to 1933. During his time at Goldsmiths’ he met the painter and writer Helen Grace Roeder, with whom he would enter an intimate relationship that would last until the end of his life, though they did not marry until 1990. Carel Weight first exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition in 1931, beginning a lifelong association with the Royal Academy. He was elected an associate in 1955 and a Royal Academician in 1965. In 1933, his exhibit An Episode in the Childhood of a Genius, caught the attention of Henry Carr, then head of Beckenham School of Art, who offered Weight a two-day-a-week teaching job. He held this position until 1942, when he was called up for war service, entering the Royal Engineers. In 1944 he transferred to the army education corps with the rank of sergeant, taking over the art department of the command college in Queen’s Gate. Between 1945 and 1946 he acted as official war artist, visiting Italy, Greece and Vienna. In addition to these roles, his friendship with Kenneth Clark, chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, ensured Weight received regular commissions. Weight resumed teaching in 1947 with a job at the Royal College of Art. But was sacked when Robin Darwin arrived as the new rector. He was immediately reinstated however and emerged as a key figure within the department, taking over in 1957 as a professor of painting. He retired in 1973 at the age of sixty-five, was first made professor emeritus before becoming a senior fellow in 1983. Weight was regarded with affection by his many students, who included young trend-setters such as David Hockney, although Weight himself was a staid, old-fashioned figure. After his retrospective at the RA in 1982, Weight’s work became more fashionable, with prices moving up sharply. Another retrospective, which toured, was held at Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 1993. He was appointed CBE in 1962 and received an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh University in 1982. Weight was made Companion of Honour in the 1995 New Year’s Honours List. He died of a stroke at his home, 33 Spencer Road, London on 13 August 1997 and was cremated at Battersea crematorium.