Artist profile

Leon Kossoff

One of Britain’s most acclaimed painters of modern times, Kossoff is recognised for his highly worked and gestural impasto paintings and his striking and expressive drawings in charcoal, pastel, and graphite.  Alongside his friend and contemporary Frank Auerbach, Kossoff was a key figure in the group of artists who became known as the ‘School of London’ in the mid 1950s.

Kossoff grew up in London's East End and the post-war destruction of the City and neighbourhoods so familiar to him became a focus for his work. His sombre pallette of greys and browns and heavy mark making depicting the desolation and devastation of the local community and industrial landscape.

Peopled scenes of everyday life in and around where he lived and worked in Kilburn and Willesden pre-occupied his paintings throughout his life. He returned time and time again to observe and capture particular places and buildings including the high street, public buildings, swimming pool, railway bridges, sidings and stations. Towards the end of his career he painted gentler subjects such as the leaning cherry tree in his garden and also returned to favourite locations including King’s Cross St. Pancras station and Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, marking the passing of the years with more colourful hues and lighter handling.

Kossoff drew from the life model extensively as a young artist, beginning with evening classes at the Toynbee Hall adult education centre in 1943 and later St. Martins School of Art and most formatively, at Borough Road Polytechnic under the tutelage of David Bomberg.  From 1953-56 he also studied at the Royal College. Throughout his life he continued to turn to his family and friends as subjects, both portraits and also nude studies of his wife Rosalind and model Fidelma.  These figurative works are classical in genre yet distinctly personal in style and approach, revealing the artist’s affection and intimacy with his sitters.  In his later years he continued to venture out to draw and sketch with vigour as well as views from his windows, constantly observing the changing of the seasons in the garden, houses and streets that surrounded him. 

Leon Kossoff died on the 4thJuly 2019 at the age of 92. A catalogue raisonne of his life’s work is due for publication in 2020.

Biography

1926
Born in London
1949–53
Studied at St Martin’s School of Art, and attended twice weekly evening classes at Borough Polytechnic, London, with David Bomberg (1950–52)
1962
Elected into London group
1995
Represented Britain at Venice Biennale
2019
Died in London

Selected exhibitions

2013–14
Leon Kossoff: London Landscapes, Annely Juda Fine Art, London; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; L.A. Louver, Venice, California
2010–11
Recent Paintings, Annely Juda Fine Art, London
2007
Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting, National Gallery, London
2004–05
Leon Kossoff – Selected Paintings 1956–2000, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek; Museum of Modern Art Lucerne, Lucerne
2000
Leon Kossoff, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; Annely Juda Fine Art, London
1995–96
Leon Kossoff: Recent Paintings. XLVI Venice Biennale, British Pavilion; Düsseldorf Kunstverein; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
1972
Leon Kossoff: Recent Paintings. XLVI Venice Biennale, British Pavilion, June–Oct.1995; Düsseldorf Kunstverein; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam until Mar. 1996
1957
Leon Kossoff, Beaux Arts Gallery, London

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