Leon Kossoff

From Rembrandt: Ecce Homo


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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Leon Kossoff 1926 – 2019
Etching and aquatint on paper
503 × 427 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

. The paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69) have a long-standing appeal to Kossoff, whose output includes numerous drawings and prints derived from close study of Rembrandt’s work in the National Gallery. 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 monochrome painting on paper called Ecce Homo 1634; the work is a grisaille, undertaken by Rembrandt as a full-scale study for an etching. Kossoff’s composition follows the Dutch Master’s image quite closely, though it is inevitably reversed through the print-making process. The setting, apparently a crowded town square, with a distinctive clock face over an archway visible in the distance, is depicted in some detail. In the foreground on the right (the left in Rembrandt’s original), the forlorn figure of Christ, surrounded by Roman soldiers, stands slightly above the bending figure of Pontius Pilate.

P20315 is a unique print 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 connected to this Rembrandt painting: P20316 and P20327. These prints are also related to the engraving Christ Brought before the Temple 1998 (P11693), acquired by Tate in 1999. Kossoff’s ability to develop a range of responses to the same painting is illustrated in these etchings inspired by Rembrandt’s Ecce Homo. Although visually similar, each work is distinct. The artist collaborated on the production of the prints with Ann Dowker.

Rembrandt’s painting is related in terms of its scale, subject matter and visual appearance to another of his works in the National Gallery, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, which was probably undertaken as a study for an unexecuted etching. Kossoff has also produced a number of drawings and prints derived from Rembrandt’s Lamentation, which are represented in Tate’s collection by the etchings P11723 dating from 1998, and acquired in 1999, and the more detailed P20296, P20326 and P20329, which were included in the 2007 gift. For Kossoff, studying and interpreting Old Master paintings in new ways provides 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.

Further reading:
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.

Alice Sanger
August 2009

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