Leon Kossoff

Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon


Not on display

Leon Kossoff 1926 – 2019
Oil paint on board
Support: 1680 × 2140 × 56 mm
frame: 1785 × 2240 × 97 mm
Purchased 1981

Display caption

Kossoff's principal subjects are his immediate family and friends and the parts of London which he knows best. In the 1960s he set up a studio in Willesden, north London and in 1967 a swimming pool opened close by. He began taking his son there to teach him to swim, and the pool and its space provided him with a new subject. He made four large paintings of the pool between 1969 and 1972 of which this is one. All are distinguished by a lightness of touch and a sense of movement, noise and space.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

T03246 Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon 1971

Not inscribed
Oil on hardboard, 66 1/8 × 84 1/2 (168 × 214)
Purchased from Fischer Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) 1981
Exh: Leon Kossoff: Recent Paintings, Whitechapel Art Gallery, January–February 1972 (9, repr.in colour); Leon Kossoff: Paintings from a Decade 1970–1980, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, May–July 1981, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, July–August 1981 (1, repr.)

The subject of this painting is the swimming pool in Donnington Road, Willesden (called the Willesden Sports Centre). It is the fourth in a series of five paintings made between 1969 and 1972. The others belong to the Arts Council, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the artist's dealer, and a private collector.

Kossoff went to the pool with his children to teach them to swim and returned ‘continuously for many summers, drawing the pool and the people mostly from the cafeteria which overlooks it.’ He recalls ‘I started drawing in the pool almost as soon as it was built. This was some years before I finished the first painting. All I have from the earliest phase are some (scrappy) drawings and a tiny oil study (now in a private collection).’ He subsequently gave two of the drawings to the Tate (T03280 and T03281).

He remembers the experience of the swimming pool as being like sitting at the centre of an orchestra. ‘I was very interested in how the pool changed during the summer months and how at different times of day the changing of the light and rise and fall of the changing of the volume of sound seemed to correspond with changes in myself.’

The drawings show not only the architecture of the building, but individual and group studies of figures. ‘It was also a marvellous opportunity to draw people outside the studio moving naturally and spontaneously. I could never have managed to finish any of the pictures without an excess of drawing from life. I am incapable of inventing anything in painting. I [am] entirely dependent on drawing from the subject.’ Kossoff recalled later that in making the paintings in the studio the figures also seemed to take on the qualities of particular people he knew and drew regularly (he cited himself and his wife).

The paintings were made in his studio in Chatsworth Road, Willesden. They are painted relatively thinly (for Kossoff) on boards made up for him and prepared by him with a ground of Titanium White. He liked this because it has a ‘glow-through’ effect when the paint is applied. It is his practice to work quickly, often making a painting in a single session which may last four or five hours. He regards each new painting session as the beginning of a new work and does not consider that work in relation to others. Some paintings may have the same subject-matter but they are all new works for him. ‘Each time I do a painting I feel I am starting again.’

If he is not satisfied with a particular work he scrapes the board down and begins again. ‘This painting was finished in the same way I did the others. One day I went to the pool, I did some drawings which seemed to me to bring new ideas into the studio. I mixed up fresh paints, scraped off the painting I had been working on and repainted the whole board.’ He works with oil paints bought in large quantities (five litre tins) from Stokes and Co., and restricts the number of colours in his palette, preferring to mix them himself: this series is remarkable both for the thinness of the paint and the light tonality. He recalls that this period was one of the happiest of his life.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

You might like

In the shop