Carel Weight L’Après-midi d’une ouvrière c.1935

Artwork details

Artist
Carel Weight 1908–1997
Title
L’Après-midi d’une ouvrière
Date c.1935
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 464 x 559 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Bequeathed by Miss Jane Lidderdale 1997
Reference
T07216
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Carel Weight 1908-1997

T07216 L’Après-midi d’une ouvrière c.1935

Oil on canvas

460 x 560 (18 1/8 x 22)

Inscribed on back in chalk across abandoned figure painting 'NO RESTORATION' centre
Label on back of canvas inscribed in black ink 'AIA TRAVELLING EXHIBITION | No. 1 "THE MACHINE" ?10/10/- | CAREL WEIGHT RBA | 5 SHEPHERDS BUSH GREEN W14 | LONDON | AI', centre
Red printed label, torn, inscribed in black ink: '[...]Green W[...] | L’Après-midi d’une ouvrière| ?22', centre right
Inscribed in pencil in another hand on rim of frame 'LIDDERDALE', top.

Bequeathed by Miss Jane Lidderdale 1997

Provenance:
Acquired from the artist by Miss Jane Lidderdale (by 1946 Leicester Galleries, London)

Exhibited:
New English Art Club, New Burlington Galleries, London, Oct.-Nov. 1935 (158 as L’Après-midi d’une ouvrière)
Exhibition of Work by Members of the AIA, tour to Municipal Galleries: York, Hanley, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (92), Brighton, Aug. 1939 (49), Kidderminster, Nov., Northampton, Carlisle, Hereford, Derby, Lincoln, Bradford, Middlesborough
Painting by Carel Weight, Leicester Galleries, London, Dec. 1946 (165 as The Sewing Machine)

Simple still life paintings are rather uncommon in the work of Carel Weight, although he painted a number in the 1930s, some seasoned with whimsy and others more orthodox. The image of L’Après- midi d’une ouvrièreis amongst the latter and its central field is filled by a black 'Selbridge' sewing machine apparently in the process of being used, as a length of plum-coloured material tumbles from under its arm which is fitted with a spool of red cotton. A contrasting yellow tape-measure echoes the form of the unravelling cloth. Despite the apparently casual composition, other materials - spools of cotton, lengths of embroidery silks and balls of wool - hint at a deliberate arrangement of generalised domestic manufacture. This compositional tendency is also evident in the similarly crowded Nautical Still Life, 1935 (private collection)1 which accompanied L’Après-midi d’une ouvrière when it was shown as The Machine in Weight's 1946 exhibition at the Leicester Galleries; the kite, model schooner and map of this related painting suggest an allegorical assembly reminiscent of seventeenth century still lifes. The similar accumulation of detail in L’Après-midi d’une ouvrièredistracts attention from the face and hand at the right. In profil perdu, this figure, whom Weight has identified as his mother,2 is immersed in her surroundings and plays a modest role comparable to that of the figures in the 'intimiste' interiors of Bonnard.

The still life served as a pictorial exercise for Weight, as it afforded a technical display. On a thin white ground, it was painted on a thick pink layer which gave luminosity to the image; this effect was enhanced by the artist's typical use of glazes, seen here in the reds and browns.3 The different qualities of the materials are thus contrasted: the machine's wheel is shiny and reflects the cloth hanging behind. Similarly, the hand-mirror reflects the dull metal of the tankard. This also called for different textures in the paint, notably the scoring into the surface of the red ball of wool. The present crusty and cracked condition of the paint layer is associated with delamination between the underlying pink (carrying the impasto) and the white priming, but the heavy varnish filled many of these drying effects and has held down these layers.4 The image has also been cut down. It continues over the folded edges of canvas at the top, bottom and right, indicating that the figure would have been given greater prominence. The painting's condition is further complicated by an earlier composition on the reverse, which may have served to protect it from adverse environmental effects.5 This earlier composition was vertical (the top being the left of the new painting) and, although in a similar palette, appears to have been abandoned quite early on. It shows an unidentifiable woman in a maroon dress sitting on the floor in front of - and resting her elbow on - a green armchair.

Both of the compositions may be located within the sequence of family paintings that Weight made in the 1930s. He painted in his parents' house on Shepherd's Bush Green until it took a direct hit in wartime bombing. His paintings capture domestic arrangements in a way which would continue through his career. The embroidered backdrop in L’Après-midi d’une ouvrièrelinks it to a contemporary work, as the same cloth appears as a studio prop in the Self-Portrait, 1934 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne).6 A glimpse of intimate family life is found in the more closely related painting The Sewing Machine, 1938 (private collection),7 in which a woman is seen at work across a circular table. This seems to be the larger, 'very realistic' and 'slightly more ambitious work' which the artist identified as of his mother 'in the front room at Shepherd's Bush', and for which the Tate's painting was in some respects a preliminary.8 Despite this identification, a comparison to contemporary photographs suggests that the sitter is too young to be Weight's mother.

Although subsequently shown as The Machine and The Sewing Machine, the original title L’Après-midi d’une ouvrièremakes a quietly mocking equation between Claude Debussy's ballet Prelude à l'après-midi d'une faune and the domestic activities of a 'worker'. It was exhibited under this title in 1935, and Weight has recalled it as probably a 'bit of fun'.9 It fits with a similar parody through the use of inflated foreign titles evident in Allegro Strepitoso (Tate Gallery T05836) - first known simply as The Lion Picture - and in a second reference to Debussy when Portrait of Leo Pavia (private collection)10 was shown in 1938 under the title L'Après-midi d'une faune.11 These simultaneously tease their subjects and the high art to which they refer.

L’Après-midi d’une ouvrièrebears a partially removed label with the artist's Shepherd's Bush address. This may be linked to the 1935 showing, as the price differs from that sought at the Artists International Association Travelling exhibition in 1939, where it appeared alongside Allegro Strepitoso. It is likely that it was sold at or shortly after this exhibition to Miss Jane Lidderdale, who purchased another painting by Weight - Houses at Erbestock (whereabouts unknown) - from the 1943 After Duty exhibition which the painter organised for the AIA.12 Fifty years later and reflecting a sharp memory for his output, Weight specifically requested the inclusion of the painting in a display of his works at the Tate Gallery.13

Matthew Gale
November 1997

1 Repr. Carel Weight RA: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Royal Academy, London 1982, p.51, no.10
2 Conversation with the author, 23 April 1997
3 Tate Gallery conservation files
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Repr. Mervyn Levy, Royal Academy Painters and Sculptors: Carel Weight, London 1986, p.45, pl.36
7 Repr. exh. cat., Royal Academy 1982, p.50, no.14
8 Conversation with the author, 23 April 1997
9 Ibid.
10 Repr. Strange Happenings in the Common Place: A Retrospective Exhibition of the Work of Professor Carel Weight RA CBE, exh. cat. Newport Museum and Art Gallery, 1993, p.9, no.7
11 Cited in 'Exhibitions', Studio, vol.115, no.542, May 1938, p.277
12 After Duty, Nov.-Dec. 1943, Artists International Association papers, TGA 7043.4.6
13 Display, Tate Gallery, London, Nov. 1992 - June 1993


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