Artist biography

English painter and draughtsman. Like fellow student Frank Auerbach, he evolved a method of painting that entailed the heavy reworking of thick impasto to try to provide a truthful rendering of people and places he knew well. Drawing is given primacy as an expression of his commitment and involvement with the subject, and painting itself is conceived as a form of drawing.

Kossoff remained remarkably consistent in his methods and in his range of subject-matter, although he gradually moved away from the earth colours and thick encrusted surfaces towards a more sparing use of paint and a wider range of brighter colours. His figure paintings are often of close friends and family members; and his pictures of nudes are often of his wife, Rosalind, or of his long-standing model Fidelma. Autobiographical content is also foremost in his pictures of London, which are generally of areas where he lived – from the East End and City to Willesden and Kilburn – peopled by family and friends identifiable in many cases from studio portraits. His favoured urban subjects include railway bridges and sidings, churches and other imposing local buildings and building sites. Kossoff returned to favoured motifs, such as the booking hall at Kilburn underground station (from the mid 1970s), exploring changes not just in light but in emotion. He is sometimes classed as an Expressionist, although his references to the work of Old Masters such as Titian, Rembrandt and Rubens reveal him as a figurative painter with a strong sense of tradition.

Leon Kossoff: Recent Paintings (exh. cat., intro. D. Mercer; London, Whitechapel A.G., 1972)
Leon Kossoff: Paintings from a Decade, 1970–1980 (exh. cat., intro D. Elliott; Oxford, MOMA, 1981)
Leon Kossoff (exh. cat., preface L. Gowing; London, Anthony d'Offay Gal., 1988)


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