Leon Kossoff

From Poussin: A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term


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Not on display
Leon Kossoff born 1926
Etching on paper
405 x 567 mm
Presented by the artist 2007


This print

is one of many works executed by the London-based artist Leon Kossoff in response to, and literally in the presence of, Old Master paintings

from the National Gallery, London, in this case A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term 1632–3, by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). Tate owns two further prints by Kossoff after this Poussin painting (P11687–8). The artist’s ability to explore a number of separate responses while making drawings

and prints from a single subject is illustrated in these etchings. Originally printed in an edition

of twenty with ten artist’s proofs, P20296 is a later and heavily reworked state of the editioned artist’s proof. This work is from a group of thirty-four unique and proof impressions of prints given to Tate by Kossoff in 2007. He collaborated with Ann Dowker on the production of the prints.

In the painting by Poussin, Arcadian revellers drink and dance before a term (a statue of an ancient god). The dancing figures have been carefully posed to form a structured, flowing design. In Kossoff’s interpretation, interest focuses on the composition and the evocation of movement. He has distilled the principal figures in Poussin’s scene

into clear, unadorned lines, adding only touches of cross-hatching to indicate fabrics and textures.

Kossoff’s print does not compete with Poussin’s painting, nor does it seek to transcribe, copy or paraphrase it. Rather, it acknowledges the gulf that separates it from the pictorial culture of former times and reveals his desire to find points of contact with his forerunner. Kossoff has described the value of this kind of draughtsmanship as a means of ‘getting into’ a picture made by another artist until he feels free to ‘move about in its imaginative spaces’ (Kendall, p.19).

The prints made by Kossoff after paintings by Poussin emerge from almost half a century of involvement in the older artist’s oeuvre, initially stimulated by engagement with works at the National Gallery and later by the 1995 exhibition Nicolas Poussin 1594–1665 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Further reading:
Richard Kendall, Drawn to Painting: Leon Kossoff Drawings and Prints After Nicolas Poussin, London 2000.
Richard Wollheim, ‘Learning from Poussin’, Modern Painters, vol.13, no.1, spring 2000, pp.24–9.
Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2007.

Alice Sanger
September 2009

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