Leon Kossoff

From Poussin: The Judgement of Solomon


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Not on display
Leon Kossoff born 1926
Etching on paper
428 x 595 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 Judgement of Solomon, 1649, by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Tate owns two further prints by Kossoff after this Poussin painting (P11698–9). Originally printed in an edition

of twenty with ten artist’s proofs, P20301 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 the artist in 2007. Kossoff collaborated with Ann Dowker on the production of the prints.

In his painting of the Old Testament story, Poussin placed Solomon on a throne at the centre of a pyramidal composition. The figure of the king is framed by a circular plinth, on which his throne stands, and two round pillars, one to either side of him. On either side of the throne, the gesturing women who each claim a baby as their own, plead their cases. Kossoff’s etching follows the stark composition of Poussin’s painting, but the scene is dynamically drawn with energetic vertical and horizontal lines.

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 Kossoff’s desire to find points of contact with his forerunner. He 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 in 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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