Leon Kossoff

From Rubens: The Judgment of Paris


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Not on display
Leon Kossoff born 1926
Drypoint on paper
249 x 301 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 owns several of Kossoff’s prints after this Rubens painting, including P11719–20, dating from 1998. P20304 and P20324 were made in 2006 and are drypoint engravings. The artist’s ability to develop a range of responses to the same painting is illustrated in these works, in which the interpretation of the original is markedly different from that of the prints undertaken in 1998. Both are unique proofs and represent different, re-worked states from the same plate. 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 and interpreting images by older artists in new ways, he seems to bond more closely with the works and deepen 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. The other figures and the landscape setting are sketchy. P20324 is still more loosely rendered than P20304.

This work is part of a group of thirty-four unique and proof impressions of prints (P20296P20329) given to Tate by the artist in 2007. Most of the prints that made up the gift 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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