Leon Kossoff

From Constable: Stoke-by-Nayland (plate 2)


Not on display

Leon Kossoff 1926 – 2019
Etching on paper
450 × 555 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, Kossoff’s inspiration is Stoke-by-Nayland, 1836, by John Constable (1776–1837), held by The Art Institute of Chicago. P20317 is an etching on cream wove paper.

Kossoff made a close study of Constable’s original when it was exhibited at Tate in 1991 (Wiggins, p.56). His practice has been to etch in front of the painting in question and a quality of spontaneity is characteristic of the finished prints. Tate’s collection includes two further prints related to Stoke-by-Nayland: P20308 and P20309. Each of the interpretations is distinct. Writing in 2007, curator Colin Wiggins explained: ‘For Kossoff, the printmaking process is entirely experimental ... there is no definitive or final image. Each pull from the plate functions as an independent expression.’ (Wiggins, p.56.) Kossoff collaborated with the artist Ann Dowker on the production of these prints.

Constable’s painting is a large oil sketch designed in preparation, it seems, for a work that he did not live to execute. In the foreground, at the juncture of two country roads, several rustic figures with horses and a cart are gathered. One road curves to the right through a copse and its tall trees dominate that side of the composition. In the distance to the left is a view of the Suffolk town of the title; the tower of its church is outlined against a cloudy sky.

In his studies from Stoke-by-Nayland, Kossoff follows the original composition, which is inevitably reversed through the print-making process. He also responds to Constable’s loose handling with broad, sweeping strokes that seem to capture and heighten the dramatic mood of the original. P20317 is a more abstracted view than the other versions, and the execution looser still. The sketchy outlines of figures and horses that appear in the foreground of P20308–9 have been reduced still further in P20317 and the sky has become dark and threatening.

For Kossoff, printmaking is another form of drawing. By studying images by older artists and interpreting them in new ways he bonds more closely with the works and gains a deeper insight into them. 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.)

This work is one of thirty-four unique prints (P20296P20329) given to Tate by the artist in 2007. P20317 is not edition marked.

Further reading:
Richard Morphet, Encounters: New Art From Old, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2000, pp.214–35.
Colin Wiggins, ‘From the National Gallery’, Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2007, pp.47–58.
‘The Great Landscapes: Constable: Stoke-by-Nayland 1835–7’, www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/constable/rooms/8-stokebynayland.htm

, accessed 9 September 2009.

Alice Sanger
September 2009

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

You might like

In the shop