is one of many etchings
executed by the London-based artist Leon Kossoff in response to Old Master paintings
from the National Gallery. The work in this case is Minerva Protects Pax from Mars (‘Peace and War’), 1629–30, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Tate owns several of the artist’s prints after this Rubens painting, P11700–4, dating from 1998, and P20306–7, both from 1999. Kossoff etched these works in front of the paintings in question and a quality of spontaneity is characteristic of the finished prints, as is his ability to develop different responses to the same painting. P20306 and P20307 are from two different plates, and are unique prints. Kossoff collaborated on the production of the prints with the artist Ann Dowker.
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 Rubens and others, enacted through regular visits to the National Gallery to draw in front of Old Master paintings. For Kossoff, drawing is a way of getting closer to the subject and, 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.)
In Rubens’s painting, an allegory
of war and peace, the nude figure of Pax (Peace) is at the centre of the composition. At Pax’s side is the helmeted figure of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. She is holding back Mars, god of war, from destroying this scene of abundance. Two nymphs, one with her back to the spectator, are at the painting’s far left. In the print the scene is inevitably reversed, and the nymphs appear on the right. Kossoff is not concerned with the details of Rubens’s painting, in terms of its complex iconography and allegorical devices, but rather with recreating the sense of movement and the power and meaning that Rubens has developed through composition and structure, and the gestures of figures. The figures in Kossoff’s print are heavily worked, and areas of cross-hatching give the composition
a sense of depth. The bodies of most of the principal characters are left unshaded and as a result stand out against the darker background.
This work is part of a group of thirty-four unique and proof impressions of prints (P20296–P20329) given to Tate by the artist in 2007. Most of the prints that made up the gift were exhibited in the same year in 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, reproduced no.16, p.28.