(1926 - 2019, London, United Kingdom)
Born in 1926, Leon Kossoff has been described as one of the greatest British artists of his time. For a little over seventy years, the changing face of London’s urban landscape has been a recurring subject of his work, and he would return to familiar sites such as King’s Cross station, Christ Church at Spitalfields and the neighborhoods of Dalston, Kilburn and Willesden, among others.
Apart from capturing the immediate precincts of his home and studio, Kossoff was also known for his portraits. His subjects were mostly members of his own family, close friends and a small number of models of long acquaintance. These works are deeply moving evocations of the human presence. He was an artist who enjoyed working directly with his material and his paintings are known for their thickly layered, almost sculptural surfaces.
Along with Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and R.B. Kitaj, Kossoff was part of the group of figurative painters known as the School of London that came to prominence in the 1970s. Kossoff’s work has been included in numerous solo museum exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art Oxford (1981); the Tate Gallery, London (1996); the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2000); the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2000); the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2001); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2000); the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek (2004); the Museum of Art Lucerne (2004); the National Gallery, London (2007); Annely Juda Fine Art, London (2010); Galerie Lelong, Paris (2014) and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York (2022). In 1995, Kossoff was chosen to represent the British Pavilion at the 46th Venice Biennale. He is currently featured in a two-person exhibition on view at Hastings Contemporary in the UK until September 2023.
All images © Leon Kossoff Estate.
Opening at Hastings Contemporary in April 2023, Soutine | Kossoff pairs two major figures of 20th century painting: one a master of the School of Paris, the other a master of the School of London. Undertaken with the full support of the Kossoff estate, it brings together around 40 important loans from public and private collections in the UK, USA and beyond. Aside from Soutine Portraits (Courtauld, 2017) at around 20 works, this is the largest group of Soutines shown together in UK since 1982, and the first since then to show both portraits and landscapes, providing a fascinating follow-up to The Barnes Foundation’s 2021 show Soutine / De Kooning.
Postwar Modern explores the art produced in Britain in the wake of a cataclysmic war. Certainty was gone, and the aftershocks continued, but there was also hope for a better tomorrow. These conditions gave rise to an incredible richness of imagery, forms and materials in the years that followed.
In Post-war British art radical work tended towards various styles influenced by the modern art of Paris and New York such as Surrealism, abstraction and Pop Art. Alongside these parallel movements there existed another kind of art pioneered by a group of loosely associated artists later labelled The School of London. What they had in common was a firm belief that they could find new ways to create realist paintings and reinvent the representation of the human figure to make it relevant in a world traumatised by the Second World War.
ARTFORUM Summer 2009 Leon Kossoff MITCHELL-INNES & NASH Leon Kossoff's painterliness invites us to scan the image of subconscious meaning—to play on Anton Ehrernzweig's idea of the way we approach what he calls "gestalt-free painting"—and the meaning we find involves what Freud called "primary process thinking," and traces of what D.W. Winnicott, elaborating and deepening Freud's idea, called "primary creativity," by which he meant the spontaneity innate to us all yet often stifled or channeled into trivial pursuits by society.
Each week we bring you four of the most interesting objects from the world’s museums, galleries and art institutions, hand-picked to mark significant moments in the calendar. While the Expressionist movement may seem to have become indelibly linked with Edvard Munch’s The Scream, many of its lesser players and higher ideals are now beginning to get the attention they deserve. This week we take a look at some of the key figures of this movement, from Kollwitz to Munch and beyond. Leon Kossoff was a member of the pioneering School of London, an informal group of painters which included Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Euan Uglow. They were united in their desire to depict the human figure in a way that reflected the trauma of post-war society in Britain. In this work, Kossoff conveys the suffering of the émigrée writer Sonia Husid (1906–85), known by her nom de plume N M Seedo, after her experience of pogroms in Romania.
Rules in art exist to be broken but it takes chutzpah, which could explain why so many rule-breakers in modern figurative art were Jewish. Given that they were breaking the law by making figurative art in the first place, they went for broke. Born a generation apart, Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943) and Leon Kossoff (1926-2019) had much in common. Both were brought up in Jewish working-class families with no pictures on the walls: Soutine the son of a Belarusian tailor; Kossoff, of a Ukrainian immigrant baker in London’s East End. Both were rule-breakers – Soutine because he didn’t have the patience for the rules, Kossoff because he had difficulty following them. Both were reserved in person, extravagant in paint.
They never met, and their lives followed very different trajectories. Yet a comparable inner energy seethes through the landscapes and cityscapes of two prominent artists who shared an uncanny artistic relationship. Londoner Leon Kossoff was a great admirer of Belarus-born Chaïm Soutine, who died aged 50 in 1943. Kossoff lived on until 2019, still working and exhibiting at 92. The echo of Soutine in Kossoff’s life and career resounds again and again. In 1952, Soutine represented France in the 24th Venice Biennale; in 1995 Kossoff was featured in the British Pavilion of the 46th Venice Biennale. In 1963, an Arts Council exhibition featuring the young artist friends, Soutine and Modigliani, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival, was transferred to the Tate Gallery in London; in 1996 the Tate mounted a Kossoff retrospective.
Pairing Chaïm Soutine and Leon Kossoff is a masterstroke, showing the restless energy and dizzying brushwork they share. In “City Building Site” (1961), the earliest of Kossoff’s landscapes displayed, black girders and chrome-yellow cranes rise out of muddy walkways forged in layered slathers of pigment: place and painting seem to come into being simultaneously. Through the 1960s, Kossoff’s urban panoramas captured London in flux. Concrete cooling towers soar one bright blue morning amid a maze of railway lines, electric masts, industrial ruins and abandoned allotments in “Willesden Junction, Summer No 2”. York Way viaduct slices through derelict wasteland, the gloom mitigated by touches of Venetian red and orange, in “Railway Landscape near King’s Cross, Dark Day”.
They shared east European heritage, a reverence for Rembrandt and a resolute adherence to figurative painting while many of their contemporaries were turning towards abstraction. Now two of the world’s most important Jewish artists of the 20th century — the post-Impressionist Chaim Soutine and Leon Kossoff, one of his greatest fans — are getting a joint exhibition in a museum in Hastings. The show, which opens tomorrow, is bound to draw serious art-lovers to the south coast to see these once-overlooked artists. Modesty kept Kossoff under the radar for far too long, art critic Roberta Smith commented after seeing his 2021 show Looking at Life with a Loaded Brush in New York. “He has been unfairly overshadowed by fellow Brits like Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, thanks in part to their colourful personal lives,” she says.
In Soutine | Kossoff, Hastings Contemporary assembles Soutine landscapes and portraits along with similar works by leading School of London painter Leon Kossoff (1926-2019). The show, which rigorously separates the two artists in otherwise flowing galleries, implicitly compares the Céret works with Kossoff’s post-war cityscapes, such as the expressive, yellow-brown blur of City Building Site (1961). Kossoff—like his friend and fellow Soutine acolyte, Auerbach—viewed the ruins and construction sites of post-war London as a kind of dynamic visual wonderland, and that painting, showing a bombed area nominally coming back to life, imbues its array of steel girders with a Soutine-like spontaneity.
Looking for your next culture fix? Susan Gray explores the must-see exhibitions that need to be on your radar for the coming year. Soutine-Kossoff at Hastings Contemporary in East Sussex, running from April 1st to September 24th -- the first show to explore the relationship between Leon Kossoff, whose impasto (thickly applied paint) landscapes of post-war London are well known, and Paris trained artist Chaim Soutine. Kossoff discovered Soutine’s work in the 1950s and was greatly influenced by it. The two artists shared an Eastern European Jewish heritage, and both created transcendent works from the stuff of everyday life. Contains over 40 significant loans from collections in the UK and USA and beyond.
The first painting greeting us in the Mitchell-Innes & Nash exhibition is, aptly, a self portrait. Smaller than the other pieces in the show, monochromatic, it packs the power of dynamite. The man represented closeup looks aghast, terrified even. His eyes stare down with dismay at something off canvas, an abyss? Hell? Malleable, the face is agitated by a chaos of brushstrokes. The boundaries between the head and its surroundings are unclear, as if everything was made of the same substance: mud. Mud, here, is nicely symbolic not only for its biblical intimation — Man being dipped, thrown, trampled in and yanked from the “miry mud” — but the muddiness of mind is also equally appropriate. While his portraits often halted at an opacity in the sitter, Kossoff had a pretty good idea of what he was about: uncertain about everything. He could, he tells us, hold onto nothing solid, either on the outside or the inside. “The important thing is to somehow keep going. This is ‘the straw to which we cling.” This credo, shared in a rare interview, could serve as caption for all of his mature paintings.
London modernism doesn’t get the same credit as its Paris or New York counterparts. That only means the work of the richly expressive painters of the London School—not just Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, but also Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and R. B. Kitaj, among others—continues to surprise. “Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting,” at New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash, provides a deep dive into the thick impasto of this British painter.1 Born in London in 1926, and focused on the lives of its working-class neighborhoods, Kossoff imparted the weight of experience in the thickness of his line and heaviness of his brush.
A survey of paintings by the celebrated postwar British artist Leon Kossoff, who died in 2019, is timed to the publication of the Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings. On view are 16 paintings, ranging in date from the late 1950s to 2016. Kossoff was part of the “School of London,” a postwar movement that included artists such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Frank Auerbach. The show includes Kossoff’s main themes—family members, nudes, and London landscapes—which are at once poignant and mundane. The Mitchell-Innes and Nash show is part of a three-gallery effort and is the first posthumous and largest exhibition of Kossoff’s paintings in a commercial setting to date. Annely Juda organized a show in London in September, and L.A. Louver in Los Angeles has a concurrent exhibition through March 26.
There was something unintentionally fitting about seeing Kossoff’s complex, sobering art under our currently disrupted circumstances. The show’s earliest painting, “Seated Woman” (1957), is a 5-foot-tall panel laden with pounds and pounds of thick, dark paint. Kossoff dragged his brush through the chocolate brown mud, exposing rich tones of purple, crimson and forest green buried within, literally carving out the linear form of a dozing figure, hands clasped in her lap, mouth a hooked slash.
Kossoff’s greatness lies in the extreme way he pits the two basic realities of painting — the actual paint surface and the image depicted — against each another. First there is the startlingly heavy, even off-putting, impasto of his oil paint, which sometimes seems more ladled on than conventionally applied with a brush (even a big one), and which gives his surfaces an almost topographical dimension. Then there is the reality of his images, initially swamped in paint, that ultimately battles its way to legibility through a process that thrillingly slows and extends the act of looking.
“Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting,” Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York (through March 5): London modernism doesn’t always get the same credit as its Paris or New York counterparts. That means the richly expressive painters of the London School—not just Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, but also Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, R. B. Kitaj, and others—continue to surprise. This month at New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash, “Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting” provides a deep dive into the thick impasto of the British painter Leon Kossoff (1926–2019). Born in London, and focusing on the lives of its working-class neighborhoods, Kossoff imparted the weight of experience in the thickness of his line and heaviness of his paint. This exhibition of sixteen works ranging from 1936 to 1993 is timed to the release of the 640-page Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings by Modern Art Press and is curated by its editor, Andrea Rose. A west-coast version of the exhibition also opens this week at California’s L.A. Louver gallery.
We are born to recognize faces. But by 1969 Kossoff had worked on a number of portraits in which the faces never cohere (bodies, as figures, are easier to read, because more abstract to begin with). His Seated Woman (1957) is a good example. Self Portrait No. 1 from 1965 may be a better one. In this work, one can strain to make Kossoff’s or any face appear, but it would just be an affirmation of one’s own credulity, akin to seeing Jesus in a water stain or a slice of burnt toast.
This long-awaited catalogue raisonné brings together the paintings of Leon Kossoff, one of the most important 20th-century British artists. Kossoff was part of the School of London along with other figurative painters including Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach. He returned to familiar subjects throughout his career, including London landmarks such as Christ Church Spitalfields and Kilburn underground station, creating numerous works inspired by Old Masters such as Nicolas Poussin. The author Andrea Rose curated Kossoff’s exhibition at the 1995 Venice Biennale when he represented Great Britain. “As part of the catalogue raisonnéproject, he gave her a level of access to him, his archive and his studios that, as an intensely private person, he had withheld from all others,” according to the publisher. An accompanying exhibition, which first opened at Annely Juda gallery in London, tours to Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York (13 January-5 March 2022) and L.A. Louver Gallery in California (26 January-26 March 2022).
A key figure of the London School, Leon Kossoff (1926–2019) captures the life force of the British capital—his birthplace and lifelong muse—in all its dolorous splendor. Never has a palette perhaps best described as “shades of gloom” (the dried-blood reds and rusts of postwar Victorian tenements, the gray-brown murk of the Thames) seemed so vigorous.
Surveying six decades of production and organized together with Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York and L.A. Louver in Los Angeles, “A Life in Painting” opens with a series of Kossoff’s portraits.
I was in the grip of despair. I had arrived to interview the artist Leon Kossoff at his home in Willesden, North London, for the Independent on Sunday, but when I arrived, after toiling long and hard uphill by bicycle, I found him to be profoundly unenthusiastic about the prospect. I explained to him that he had already agreed to talk to me, and that I had come all the way from South London. Finally, grudgingly, he let me slip, side-on, into the rather under-lit front hall — but only into the hall.
Yes, he would do it, he said in the end, still havering, but he had never anticipated such consequences of having his work shown at the Tate and the Venice Biennale …. I soon discovered that this gentle, wary, vulnerable man of 75 possessed a will of steel.
This is the first major posthumous exhibition on Leon Kossoff (1926-2019) and the largest ever staged in a commercial gallery. Comprising 58 works, the show has a museum retrospective quality and breadth, and, true to the show’s title, is drawn from across Kossoff’s near 60-year career. A student of David Bomberg in the 1950s, and a member of the School of London that included Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, Kossoff’s work always remained representational and never moved into abstraction. Principally considered a figurative painter, Kossoff, a life-long London resident, also consistently painted scenes from the city, charting its evolution from the post-war period to the present. As a touring retrospective, the show will go on to New York and Los Angeles in early 2022.
Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting is a major new touring retrospective of paintings by the seminal British artist (1926 – 2019). Opening at Annely Juda Fine Art in London on 30 September, it will travel to New York and Los Angeles in early 2022. The show comprises 58 works and will be the first posthumous and most extensive exhibition of Kossoff’s paintings in a commercial setting to date, and coincides with the publication of Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings released by Modern Art Press. The exhibition is curated by Andrea Rose, former Director of Visual Arts at the British Council and editor of the catalogue raisonné.
Even after he found fame as one of the most important 20th-century British artists, Leon Kossoff never got over the distress of losing 14 paintings and six drawings in an unsolved theft.
A much-loved portrait of his mother was among pictures that were stolen from a lorry transporting them from London to Italy in 1972, with some speculating that the mafia was responsible. Until his death two years ago, he was obsessed with being reunited with them one day, but he never saw them again.
Now art historians hope that the inclusion of those works in a forthcoming major publication will jog people’s memories and finally lead to their recovery.
Leon Kossoff, whose expressionistic portraits and images of urban life made him one of the most important painters of postwar Britain, died on July 4 in London. He was 92.
'It's very private, this relationship with paintings, how they get inside your mind... When you are drawing a painting you see and experience it differently, your mind wakes up.' For most of his life, Leon Kossoff has been coming to London's National Gallery to study and sketch its Old Masters. With some of these drawings about to go on show at Frieze Masters Jackie Wullschlager joins the artist for a tour of his favorite paintings.
"Leon Kossoff has drawn and painted London relentlessly for more than six decades. Today, at 86, he can still be found sketching the street corners that have inspired him throughout his remarkable career. London is "Kossoff's Venice, his city of vista and movement," wrote Andrea Rose in the catalogue for "London Landscapes," a major exhibition that she curated for the artist's four galleries--Annely Juda Fine Art in London, Galerie Lelong in Paris, and Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, where it is on view November 7 through December 21, before moving on to L..A. Louver in Los Angeles."
Leon Kossoff's love affair with London
All his life, Leon Kossoff has felt compelled to draw and paint his native London. In the nearest that he has ever come to giving an interview, the artist, self-effacing as ever, explains how he has spent decades trying to get it right.
Taking into account the slow, majestic pace at which he works, Leon Kossoff’s new solo show at Annely Juda in London, travelling next year to New York and California, may well be the last in his lifetime. Until Dec 17, www.annelyjudafineart.co.uk; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, May 5- June 18 2011; LA Louver, Venice, California, Sep 8-Oct 8 2011
Leon Kossoff's painterliness invites us to scan the image for subconscious meaning--to play on Anton Ehrenzweig's idea of the way we approach what he calls "gestalt free painting"--and the meaning we find involves what Freud called "primary process thinking," and traces of what D.W. Winnicott, elaborating and deepening Freud's idea, called "primary creativity," by which he meant the spontaneity innate to us all yet often stifled or channeled into trivial pursuits by society.
For pure cussedness it's hard to beat the London painters who came to prominence in the wake of WWII. A generation younger than the abstract Expressionists artists such as Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud shared with their New York colleagues a sense of existential angst, expressed through an extended process of scraping out and overpainting that reflected their quest to encapsulate intense feeling by sheer insistence.
There is no getting away from the fact that Leon Kossoff's early paintings are deeply weird, "deeply" being the operative word. These works are more like some form of sculptural relief than painting per se – they are certainly as far as you can get, physically and theoretically, from Clement Greenberg's notion (contemporary with these works) of "ineluctable flatness."