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is one of many works executed by the London-based artist Leon Kossoff in response to Old Master paintings
. The work of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69) has a long-standing appeal to Kossoff, whose output includes numerous drawings and prints derived from close study of Rembrandt’s paintings in the National Gallery, London. Kossoff etched these works in front of the paintings in question and a quality of spontaneity is characteristic of the finished prints. In this case, his inspiration is a small, monochrome oil sketch on paper of The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, painted by Rembrandt in about 1635, probably as a study for an unexecuted etching.
Kossoff’s composition follows the Dutch Master’s image closely, though it is inevitably reversed through the print-making process. The lifeless body of the crucified Christ lies in the foreground, cradled and surrounded by his grieving followers. His empty cross dominates the right of the composition (the left in Rembrandt’s original). On either side of this cross, in the extreme foreground and in the background, are the two crosses of the thieves crucified with Christ, with their limp bodies still hanging on them.
P20296 is from a group of thirty-four unique and proof impressions of prints given by the artist to Tate in 2007. The gift included two further unique prints inspired by Rembrandt’s Lamentation, and all three are related to P11723, dating from 1998, and acquired by Tate in 1999. Kossoff’s ability to develop a range of responses to the same painting is illustrated in these etchings. In P11723, the scene is loosely drawn, with the figures in outline only. P20296, P20326 and P20329 offer three further interpretations, which differ markedly from P11723, and are also distinct from one another. Higher levels of detail than in P11723 produce in these three etchings a greater sense of depth, and variations between the works, in part due to the density of inking, create the effect of differently modulating and grainy textures. Kossoff collaborated on the production of the prints with the artist Ann Dowker.
Rembrandt’s Lamentation is related in terms of its scale, subject matter and visual appearance to his grisaille Ecce Homo 1634, also in the National Gallery, which was the study for an etching produced in 1635. Kossoff has produced a number of drawings and prints derived from this work, of which Tate holds the etchings Christ Brought before the People 1998 (P11693), acquired in 1999, and P20315–6 and P20327, acquired as part of the 2007 gift. For Kossoff, studying and interpreting Old Master paintings in new ways has provided 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.)
Most of the prints that Kossoff presented to Tate appeared in the 2007 exhibition Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting at the National Gallery.
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.