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Ivor Weiss, Artist

October 21, 2020
by the gentle author

The Onlooker, 1968

I visited Jermyn St in St James to meet Mark Weiss of the Weiss Gallery to hear about the life of his father, the painter Ivor Weiss (1919-1986) who was born in Stepney. The gallery was filled large bold paintings that possess a soulfulness and tender humanity. These pictures embody the cultural memory of the Jewish East End, speaking eloquently of a long life and a significant talent. Today one of Ivor Weiss’ paintings hangs in Sandys Row Synagogue in Spitalfields where it can be viewed on request.

“My father was one of four children. His parents were both Romanian Jews who came over to London at the end of the nineteenth century. We don’t know the exact dates, we have very little documentation of family history. My father’s father came from quite a well-to-do family in Bucharest. He was one of four or five children and his wife, whose maiden name was Wiseman, came from a very large family of twelve or thirteen. We don’t know when they got married but we do know they lived, as many immigrant Jews did at that time, in Stepney in the East End around Cable St. So my father was born a Cockney in Stepney in 1919.

His father was a Master Furrier and clearly was quite successful, although he was only naturalised in 1929. By that time, he had clearly made some money and was living in 33 Elgin Crescent, Westbourne Grove. My grandfather was a gambler and my father used to say that his mother was in tears at the end of the week because all the money his father had earned had been spent, betting on dogs and horses.

My father enlisted when war broke out in 1939 when he was only twenty years old. As a nice Jewish boy from the East End, he expected to be put into a force that suited him but instead he was enrolled in a Glaswegian regiment which he hated. He ended up in the Royal Corps of Signals and was posted to the North African campaign, ending up in Malta. There his artistic talents were first recognised and he attended an art school, winning a couple of prizes. When he was demobilised he went to Heatherley School of Art in Baker St and then St Martin’s in the Charing Cross Rd, where he met my mother Joan, who was also an art student and a painter. They married very quickly after that in 1949.

My father’s brother was a pilot in the RAF and had been seconded during the war to teach American pilots how to fly fighter planes and he married a Jewish lady in Montgomery, Alabama. There was still rationing after the war in this country and he invited my father over to Alabama to live. So my parents went to start a new life there and opened an art school called the Weiss Gallery. It was not easy for them because they were committed to their school being desegregated. They hated the situation, but they had spent all their money getting out there. I and my brother were born in America and, by 1955, they had saved enough money to return.

My father had an offer to be a stand-in art teacher at Lancing College for six months and then he got a job in a secondary modern in Brightlingsea, Essex, where my sister was born. To supplement his income, he used to teach evening classes. By chance, he was asked by a local lady if he could sell a painting for her, so my father brokered the sale of the picture to a local antique dealer and earned more money than he could make in a month. My parents drifted into art dealing from our home in Brightlingsea and, within a few years, made enough money to buy a big house in Colchester. My father had an intuitive eye, and he had studied Art History and technique, so he was well placed to become an art dealer, and my mother used to do the restoration. They made quite a formidable team and the business grew rapidly.

Yet he still had aspirations for his art and there came a watershed when Mr Weston, of the wealthy family who owned Fortnum & Mason, invited my father to paint for him and his friends in the south of France, but my father said, ‘No, I don’t want to leave my family.’ It was a fork in the road. If he had done that, he might have developed more of a career as a commercial painter. Having made that choice, painting remained a private exercise. He was never that prolific, and painting remained a personal and emotional thing for him. It was difficult, it was not something that came easy – the creation of pictures.

For the rest of his life, he and my mother concentrated on art dealing with him painting privately. But after a series of minor heart attacks, he had triple heart by-pass surgery and it proved the catalyst for him paint Judaic subjects. They are some of his most powerful works, drawing on the traditions he grew up with in the East End among Hassidic Jews.

My father died of a heart attack in 1986, at the time I opened up my gallery in London which we would have run together. His paintings remained hanging in the houses of members of the family and in storage with my mother until she died aged ninety-two. These are quite emotional paintings for us as a family.

I regret that I never asked my father questions about the East End and he never discussed it. Sorting out my mother’s affairs, I could not even find a marriage certificate, and I realised they had never talked about their wedding and I had never asked, and how sad that is. As children, we never questioned our parents about their past. They grew up through the horrors of the Second World War and, the generation before, they endured the First World War. My grandfather served with great distinction, but had a horrendous time and had nightmares about it for the rest of his life. He did not want to talk about it.

My father was remarkable man and one of the things that strikes me, when I think about him, is that he never made enemies – which is a rare thing in this life. He was multi-talented, he taught pottery, he could make enamel jewellery, he could make furniture, all sorts of things.

The Discussion, 1968

Four Drinkers, 1968

Seated cCouple, fifties

The Anchor Inn, Brightlingsea

The Park Bench, 1967

Woman in Pub, 1981

Boredom, 1964

The Waiting Room, 1964

The Last Supper, 1972

The Elders, 1972

Seated Rabbi, 1972

Approaching Storm, 1966

Wivenhoe Creek, 1966

Ivor & Joan Weiss

In the studio in the fifties

Ivor Weiss painting in the eighties

Ivor Weiss (1919-86), Self Portrait mid-eighties

Paintings copyright © Estate of Ivor Weiss

20 Responses leave one →
  1. October 21, 2020

    Many thanks… what an amazing artist! I am sure I would have remembered Weiss’ works, had I seen them before. Most of the books I have read about Jewish artists in Britain focused on the 1930s, 40s and 50s, so perhaps Ivor Weiss didn’t become famous until later.

    Colchester Art Society seems to be the other major source of information.

  2. Jamie permalink
    October 21, 2020

    Very strong paintings… And a very interesting story, as always. Thank you TGA and Mark Weiss.

  3. Amanda Bush permalink
    October 21, 2020

    What marvellous dramatically-structured paintings.

  4. Karen Rennie permalink
    October 21, 2020

    These paintings are really beautiful and such a strong sense of place. Thankyou so much for sharing them with us. Ivor Weiss should be better known.

  5. Nicholas Borden permalink
    October 21, 2020

    Really like seeing an artist work like this on line.Looking forward to seeing the actual paintings when get a chance.

  6. October 21, 2020

    Wonderful, strong, deeply felt paintings and a fascinating back story as well.

  7. October 21, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, I love these powerful paintings. To me “Four Drinkers, 1968” and “Boredom, 1964” seem to channel Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players.”

    Also, “The Elders, 1972” was so powerful and should be shared with the world.

  8. October 21, 2020

    These paintings are stunning, moving and so evocative. I love the focus on the hands too. I had never heard of Ivor Weiss and loved reading his story here. These paintings have inspired me to pick up my own brushes again. Thank you so much for this.

  9. Walter Braun permalink
    October 21, 2020

    Superb pictures and a superb story. Gentle, you always manage to surprise and captivate your fans!

  10. Adele Lester permalink
    October 21, 2020

    What stunning Art! Not at all familiar with the Artist – perhaps his son could arrange a retrospective at Whitechapel Art Gallery.
    Thanks for bringing to my attention GA.

  11. Ken permalink
    October 21, 2020

    For me these are among the most profound works you have listed

  12. October 21, 2020

    Such evocative and atmospheric paintings. Thank you for introducing me to this amazing artist, I intend to do some more research. A wonderful story too.

  13. Valerie permalink
    October 21, 2020

    Powerfully evocative. If there was a collected works volume I would buy it. I can almost read the subjects thoughts…it feels like. Hard lives, borne with resignation, but bolstered by one another. Quite moving.

  14. October 22, 2020

    What a great painter, I particularly like his groups of flat capped men.

  15. Pamela Traves permalink
    October 22, 2020

    Gorgeous Pictures!! Thank You So much!!🥰😘😊💟🌷🌼🌻🌺💋

  16. Virginia Heaven permalink
    October 22, 2020

    Very interesting and moving. The paintings are strong and emotional. This document you are creating day by day is of immense value. Thank you

  17. Richard permalink
    October 22, 2020

    Marvellous paintings but also how beautiful is Joan Weiss.

  18. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    October 23, 2020

    Gentle author, this recent post is a very powerful one for me. It has such a story!

    The strength of dark and light in Ivor Weiss’ work leaves me spellbound. And the one of the rabbis holds an incredible statement of what his family’s background meant to him. Sadly he knew so little of it but I am sure he sensed its power.

    Thanks indeed.

  19. Julie O permalink
    October 25, 2020

    I love my daily email from TGA, never more so than when I’m introduced to a new artist. The works of Ivor Weiss have really blown me away. I would love to see them all up close, particularly The Four Drinkers and The Elders. Thank you and his son for letting more of the world know about Ivor’s talent.

  20. Ruth Silver permalink
    October 26, 2020

    Hello

    I am interested in your name Weiss, as my great grandmother Rose Samuels came to the UK with her siblings Issac and Millie (Amelia). They came to Spitalfields. Millie married Benjamin Weiss in and had 4 children Sadie( Sarah) b 1922 Bernie 1924 , Jack 1915 and Mick 1920. I realise it’s quite a popular surname. I went to Art College and am a figurative painter too.
    R Silver

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