Leon Kossoff British, 1926-2019

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 palette 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 4th July 2019 at the age of 92.  A catalogue raisonne of his life’s work was published in 2021 and was celebrated with a major touring retrospective, Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting, at Annely Juda Fine Art, London (2021), Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York (2022) and L.A. Louver, Los Angeles (2022).  Kossoff is regarded as one of the most important British Artists of his time and his work is held in major public collections and museums worldwide including the Tate Gallery, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and Scottish National Gallery in the UK; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, MOMA, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,  MCA Los Angeles, LA County Museum of Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, LA and Hirshorn Museum, Washington DC and Chicago Art Institute, USA and Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Art Gallery of S. Australia, Adelaide and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.