Carel Weight

Clapham Junction


Not on display

Carel Weight 1908–1997
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 708 × 908 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1978

Display caption

This work depicts the original high-level entrance to Clapham Junction station, looking east towards Lavender Hill. To its right, across the road, can be seen the clock tower of Arding and Hobbs department store. Weight noted that he was 'fascinated by the switch-back aspect of the composition which suggested violent movement. The rather eerie architecture supports this feeling. It is a district where violence is a frequent feature and where robbery is commonplace'. In 'Clapham Junction' Weight heightens the atmosphere of panic and suspense by emphasising the angles of the composition, by the lines of force which accentuate the movements of the figures, and by the truncated figure in the foreground.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Carel Weight 1908-1997

T02325 Clapham Junction 1978

Oil on canvas

708 x 908 (27 7/8 x 35 3/4)

Inscribed in black oil paint 'Carel Weight' b.r.
Inscribed label on back in blue pen: 'CAREL WEIGHT | 33 SPENCER RD | SW18 2SP | 4. CLAPHAM JUNCTION'

Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1978

Chantrey purchase from the artist 1978

Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, May-Aug. 1978 (471)
Carel Weight, Ibis Gallery, Leamington Spa, Nov.-Dec. 1978
Carel Weight RA: A Retrospective Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, Jan.-Feb. 1982 and Arts Council tour: York City Art Gallery, Feb.-April, Rochdale Art Gallery, April-May, Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance, May-June, New Metropole Arts Centre, Folkestone, July-Aug. 1982 (89, repr.)

William Feaver, review of 210th RA Summer Exhibition, Observer, 28 June 1978, p.28
Simon Lewty, 'Weight', Art Monthly, no.22, 1978-9, p.20
Tate Gallery Acquisitions, 1978-80, London 1981, pp.174-5, repr. p.174

Clapham Junction takes its name from the Victorian railway station which Weight used for his journeys from his South London home to the Royal College. The architecture of the high-level entrance to the station dominates the composition: the old booking office, which is shown, had been closed since 1967 and was demolished and redeveloped in the 1980s. The view to the east towards Lavender Hill includes, on the right, the green-roofed clock tower of the Arding and Hobbs department store. After the painting was acquired by the Tate Gallery in December 1978, the artist wrote (1 Oct. 1979): 'The picture was painted early in 1978. The setting is the original entrance [to] Clapham Junction railway station (now about to be demolished). I pass it almost every day on the way to my studio and have always been fascinated by the switch-back aspect of the composition which suggests violent movement. The rather eerie architecture supports this feeling.' In the painting the station windows are shown boarded against vandalism and the feeling of abandonment is deliberately exaggerated by the absence of any cars or passers-by. The 'switch-back' structure is conveyed by the arrangement of the converging walls, one entering from the left and the other seen head-on. They channel the space of the higher level into the foreground and into the sweep of the road plunging to the right. In the overall purplish colouring of the sky, and over the red brick buildings and the rhythmically cobbled yard, Weight infuses this curious architectural solution with the eerieness on which he remarked. This is further enhanced by the rough handling of the surface, especially in the heavily worked swirl of underpainting curving around the central figure. In addition, the canvas has suffered some buckling around the edges.

As so often with Weight, the place created a mood which inspired the scene. The painter's account continued: 'It is a district where violence is a frequent feature and where robbery is commonplace. It is of course also the setting for "Up the Junction".' The scene must be considered to be contemporary rather than directly associated with Nell Dunn's novel of working-class life in South London, published a decade earlier in 1966. In a further letter (4 Oct. 1979) he added:

In this particular case two or three scribbles and a snap shot were enough to get the work started. I passed the setting almost everyday and so I had it clearly in my memory. Once the setting was resolved the figures became the problem. It is rather like those sums one did at school. One was given certain things (in this case the setting) and had to find X (the relation of the figures to the landscape).

Writing more generally about his work, he concluded: 'My pictures are always about people. I invent people rather like [a] novelist. Dickens used to say he invented his characters and they ran away with him. I feel this, they assert themselves often making me depart from my plan and taking over.' There is a perceptible difference between the exact depiction of the buildings and the deliberately stylised handling of the figures. Four young men scatter, pursued by two men in uniform - either policemen or rail officials. Although these figures are placed at fairly regular intervals, their movement stretches across the whole width of the composition. In addition, Weight has adopted stuttering outlines to imply the movement of the figures. This was derived from his admiration for the Italian Futurists, especially Giacomo Balla's Dog on a Leash, 1909 (conversation with the author, 8 Dec. 1995). Weight had used this method over a number of years, in works such as The Speed Merchant, 1956 (private collection, repr. R.V. Weight, Carel Weight: A Haunted Imagination, London 1994, p.12); it served both to suggest movement and to maintain a curiously comical atmosphere in the works.

This humour balances the potential violence of Weight's favoured themes of pursuit and flight found as early as Allegro Strepitoso [Tate Gallery T05836]. In his interview with Cathy Courtney ('Artists' Lives', National Life Story Collection, British Library National Sound Archive, 1991, Tate Gallery Archive, tape F2551 side A), the painter called Clapham Junction, 'a moral document', referring to its themes of violence and robbery. This sense of social comment had already been tackled in the directly comparable Cops and Robbers, 1956 (private collection, repr. R.V. Weight 1994, p.62), where the stuttered forms for the figures had already been used for a policeman chasing three dispersing robbers by the railway in Fulham. Also common in Weight's work is the choice of the nearly deserted approaches to railway stations as sites of contemplation or unexpected incident. These were especially prevalent in the work of the 1950s, such as Going Home, 1950 (private collection, repr. ibid. p.63) and The Active and Contemplative Life, 1955 (Reading Museum and Art Gallery), but returned in Barnes Station, 1976 (Dr and Mrs Andrew Verney collection, repr. ibid. p.95). In the latter, Weight used the station as a scene for spiritual enlightenment, as a ghost-like girl encounters a crucifixion on the pedestrian bridge. The station at Clapham appears in the background of Envy, one of the panels of The Seven Deadly Sins, 1979-80 (collection J.R.M. Keatley; repr. ibid., p.104); this shows that the painter could also see it as a setting for more complex emotions than the frantic activity of Clapham Junction.

Matthew Gale
March 1996

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