Leon Kossoff

From Poussin: The Destruction and the Sack of the Temple of Jerusalem


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Not on display
Leon Kossoff born 1926
Etching and aquatint on paper
511 x 594 mm
Presented by the artist 2007


This print

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

, in this case, The Destruction and the Sack of the Temple of Jerusalem, 1625–6, by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). The painting, held in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, was exhibited at the National Gallery, London, in 1999, where Kossoff came into contact with it. P20302 is one of a large body of work by the artist connected with the study at first hand of Poussin’s work. It is a unique print and combines the techniques of etching and aquatint on white wove paper.

Kossoff’s first visit to the National Gallery in 1936, at the age of only ten, had a powerful impact on him. In the course of his career, a commitment to drawing has been a guiding principle: ‘I think of everything I do as a form of drawing’, he has explained (quoted in Kendall, p.19). This commitment has resulted in a decades-long dialogue with Poussin and others, enacted particularly through regular visits to the National Gallery to make studies from Old Master paintings. For Kossoff, drawing and etching in front of the work in question is a way of getting closer to the subject. In studying images by older artists and interpreting them in new ways he has bonded more closely with the works and deepened his understanding of the dynamics at play in their compositions. He is not concerned with copying a painting by an Old Master, but with gaining a level of knowledge that will allow him the freedom to ‘move about in its imaginative spaces’ (quoted in Kendall, p.19). Kossoff 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 follows the basic composition of Poussin’s image closely, even though the scene is inevitably reversed through the print-making process. In both, the classical portico of the Temple of Jerusalem dominates the background. In the foreground, Roman soldiers, some on horseback, overpower the city’s defenders. Kossoff’s interpretation focuses on recreating the feeling of chaotic movement of the original with loosely composed figures that appear to meld one into the other.

This work is from a group of thirty-four prints (P20296P20329) given to Tate by the artist in 2007. Kossoff collaborated on the production of the prints with the artist Ann Dowker.

Further reading:
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 p.84.

Alice Sanger
September 2009

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