Catalogue entry

The Rendezvous 1953

N06177

Oil on canvas

860 x 1110 (33 7/8 x 43 13/16)

Inscribed in pencil 'Carel Weight 1953' t.r.
Inscribed on back of central stretcher in black paint in another hand 'Painted by [...] L GOODMAN 1838'

Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1953

Provenance:
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1953

Exhibited:
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, May-Aug. 1953 (461)
Within These Shores: A Selection of Works from the Chantrey Bequest 1883-1985, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, June-Sept. 1989 (28, repr. p.66)

Literature:
Tate Gallery Annual Report, 1953-4, London 1954, p.25
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.763

Due to shortages of materials Carel Weight reused a stretcher for The Rendezvous; the original user may have been the portraitist Mrs L Goodman (née Julia Salaman, 1812-1906). The Rendezvous was painted from studies, with the characteristic pencil grid of the squaring-up visible through the thin paint of the undergrowth and by the building. Also characteristic is the use of overlaid glazes of translucent pigment diluted with turpentine and retouching varnish. These are combined with areas of scratching, around the central tree, and of impasto in the branches. The blue of the coat of the central figure has been applied in short dabs rather than in flat colour.

Weight had already been a tutor at the Royal College for some years when he painted The Rendezvous in February 1953. The sketches for this painting and for The Strange Bird, c.1952 (private collection; repr. Mervyn Levy, Royal Academy Painters and Sculptors: Carel Weight, London 1986, p.69 pl.58) were made in Holland Park, in Kensington, west London. The densely wooded grounds had only just become a public space, as they were acquired by the London County Council in 1952. The building, of 1606-7, is a partially surviving E-plan Jacobean manor with Victorian restorations and a walled garden. The upper part of the tower of the Orangery, to the west of the walled garden, is visible in the painting. Weight had known the House and Park from the outside for most of his life. He lived nearby, at Shepherd's Bush, before the war, and from 1943 in Ladbroke Square at Notting Hill Gate. He had been attracted to the area over a number of years, as is indicated by Holland Walk, c.1946 (Hastings Museum and Art Gallery; repr. R.V. Weight, Carel Weight: A Haunted Imagination, London 1994, p.45) which shows people on the path that runs up from Kensington High Street along the east side of the Park.

Weight found the dereliction of the Park, after neglect during the war, particularly evocative and told Cathy Courtney that its Victorian architecture 'suggested cemeteries' ('Artists' Lives', National Life Story Collection, British Library National Sound Archive, 1991, Tate Gallery Archive, tape F2546 side B). Perhaps thinking more of the other works set there, he added: 'I had just come out of the army and I was looking around to begin to get my imagination to work again.' The frosty white sky and generally restrained colouring of The Rendezvous is consistent with the limited light and foliage of the time of year, and Weight commented on the importance of the enclosing branches in the creation of its mood (conversation with the author, 8 Dec. 1995).

The result was melancholic. The carefully fenced paths hold back the undergrowth, from which the building rises unexpectedly at the top of the hill. Though foregoing any physical contact, the woman and man are locked together through their gaze. He makes way for her on the bench, but she seems inclined to walk by. Her hand grasps at the flap of her coat in a gesture which is innocent but also, significantly, found in the iconography of the pregnant Virgin Mary. The encounter is witnessed by an older couple to the right. They are set away from the main gravel path that leads to the building; they look away and half turn their bodies, but their combination of inquisitive and disapproving eavesdropping is succinctly conveyed.

In considering the unreality of the central couple, Weight suggested to Courtney that it was an evocation, as if one of the two 'has just to come back and think about themselves on that particular moment in time' (interview 1991, Tate Gallery Archive, tape F2546 side B). The greater power of intense memory over the reality of the present is a recurrent theme in Weight's work from the 1950s, often linked to the mystery of particular places. Holland Park had already served as the setting for the related painting, The Strange Bird, in which two separated figures glance at the bird of the title beneath the spread of a great cedar. According to the painter (ibid.), the tragic love affair of a student of his, whose Estonian girlfriend went mad, lay behind this image. The quality of evocation and the uncertain nature of the figures in both works anticipates the ensuing ghost paintings, such as The Presence, 1955 (private collection, R.V. Weight 1994, repr. in col. p.110), in which Weight represented the play of memory more explicitly.

The Rendezvous was the first of Weight's works to be acquired by the Tate Gallery. Like the next five acquisitions, it was purchased through the Chantrey Bequest from the Royal Academy, where he has exhibited since 1931 and annually since 1947.

Matthew Gale
March 1996