David Hawkins / Painting of the Week

Painting of the Week: 17

Carel Weight, Hamlet, 1962

Carel Weight (1908-1997), Hamlet, 1962, oil on canvas, 206 x 206 cm, Harris Museum & Art Gallery.

This painting is an unusual angle on the familiar scene of Hamlet excavating his old friend Yorick’s skull (‘a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy’). Hamlet and the other man in the foreground look like workers, uplit by the fires of purgatory but framed by a very familiar brick arch. Curious passersby observe against a bruised sky.

Carel Weight was a fellow of the Royal Academy and justly celebrated in his day, but he has slipped into too much obscurity. Both the Tate and the V&A hold examples of his works but they are rarely put on display. If you stumble on one elsewhere then it’s a lucky moment, although perhaps an uncanny and troubling one too. It’s not just multiple perspectives that jostle uncomfortably in his paintings; differing emotions, moods, velocities and the realms of the living and the dead are often all present and at variance on a single canvas. Weight’s reality is messy and unsettled, but not without humour (he was fond of depicting animals escaping from zoos). Meanwhile, there is a strand of social commentary and documentary that links him back to Ford Madox Brown. While much in his work is a precursor to the London presented by David Harrison. I would milk a tiger to have the chance to edit a book on him (the last one was published in 1986!). DH

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