Leon Kossoff

From Rubens: The Judgement of Paris


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Not on display
Leon Kossoff born 1926
Etching on paper
452 x 604 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

from the National Gallery, in this case, The Judgement of Paris, 1632–5, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Tate holds six prints by Kossoff derived from The Judgement of Paris, of which two are unique proofs (P20304 and P20324). This work and P20323 are trial proofs that are slightly lighter impressions respectively of the etchings P11719 and P11720. They were part of a group of thirty-four unique and proof impressions of prints (P20296P20329) given to Tate by the artist. 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.)

Rubens’s painting depicts one of the most famous stories from classical mythology, that of the beauty contest between the three goddesses, Juno, Minerva and Venus, which the Trojan prince, Paris, was called upon to judge. The naked goddesses stand before Paris and Mercury, who holds the prize of a golden apple. Venus, the winner, stands between Juno and Minerva. In Kossoff’s print the scene is sparingly drawn. As Rubens, Kossoff focuses on the attitudes of the goddesses: the female nude seen from three points of view.

Most of the prints that made up the artist’s gift to Tate were displayed 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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