is one of many works executed by the London-based artist Leon Kossoff in response to paintings
in the National Gallery, London, in this case, Combing the Hair (‘La Coiffure’), about 1896, by Edgar Degas (1834–1917). Tate’s collection includes two versions of this image, acquired at different times. P11697, acquired by Tate in 1999, is the second trial proof
, printed in black ink
. Kossoff used drypoint for P20297 and it is a unique proof. This work forms part of a group of thirty-four unique and proof impressions of prints (P20296–P20329) given to Tate by the artist. Most of the prints that make up the gift were displayed in the 2007 exhibition Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting at the National Gallery.
The painting by Degas depicts a woman in a red dress sitting next to a table. She is leaning back in the chair with her eyes closed and with one hand holding the top of her head. A maid stands behind her, holding the woman’s mass of red hair in one hand and brushing it with the other. The work is rendered mostly in shades of red and pink, giving it an air of intense intimacy. Kossoff has followed Degas’s original composition, which is necessarily reversed as a result of the print-making process, by focusing particularly on the figures and describing their postures with a series of spare, flowing lines.
For Kossoff, studying and interpreting paintings by older artists in new ways provides a way of deepening his understanding of the dynamics at play in their compositions and of the emotions they produce. The artist has commented: ‘[M]y attitude to these works has always been to teach myself to draw from them, and, by repeated visits, to try to understand why certain pictures have a transforming effect on my mind.’ (Quoted in Morphet, p.225.)
Kossoff collaborated on the production of the prints with the artist Ann Dowker.
Richard Kendall, Drawn to Painting: Leon Kossoff Drawings and Prints After Nicolas Poussin, London 2000.
Richard Morphet, Encounters: New Art From Old, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2000, pp.214–35.
Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2007, reproduced no.30.