Leon Kossoff

Two Seated Figures II


Not on display

Leon Kossoff 1926 – 2019
Charcoal on paper
Image: 795 × 565 mm
Presented anonymously 2016


Two Seated Figures II 1980 is a charcoal drawing on paper of two elderly people sitting on armchairs next to each another. The man, on the left, is sitting up, his face turned in the direction of the viewer, his gaze lowered. The woman, on the right and seated nearer to the viewer, is slightly reclined, her legs extended forward, and seems to be asleep or resting, her eyes closed. The drawing is a record of the physical process of its making. It is defined by the contrast between the restful demeanour of the individuals portrayed and the gestural quality of the marks applied at speed. The two bodies and chairs are represented with a certain degree of detail, while the interior setting is broadly rendered through a mass of vertical and horizontal, often continuous, marks, only conveying an overall impression of the corner of a sitting room.

This is one of two drawings that Kossoff executed one morning, in the spring of 1980, at his parents’ house in London. Kossoff returned to his studio in the early afternoon and worked on the painting Two Seated Figures No. 2 1980 (Tate T03680) directly from the drawings, unusually completing it in one single session of perhaps two or three hours, without scraping off any previous attempts, as would normally be his practice. Kossoff explained that the reason why Two Seated Figures No. 2 emerged in this atypical way was due to its particularly direct relationship to the two drawings that preceded it, as what he described as a ‘direct urgent extension’ of them (quoted in The Tate Gallery 1984–86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982–84, London 1988, pp.51922). Although it is difficult to discern some of the details in the drawing, a comparison between the drawing and the final painting reveals that all the elements in the oil are already present in the drawing, including the clock on a shelf above the radiator on the back wall, a framed picture hanging above it and a tall corner cabinet.

Drawing is a crucial activity for Kossoff. He draws constantly from the landscape, the figure and the work of other artists. Of this incessant activity he has said: ‘Every day I awake with the idea that TODAY I MUST TEACH MYSELF TO DRAW. I have also each day to experience the fact that images can only emerge out of chaos.’ (Quoted in Kendall 2000, p.21.) Most of Kossoff’s work in oil paint is undertaken as the result of a long process of drawing from life models and the landscape. Drawing is a means of establishing a critical and formal connection with his subjects, getting to know them intimately and giving them form. Specific drawings are selected as source material and, in the case of the painting Two Seated Figures No. 2, the two drawings done on the same morning were both used. The other drawing, Two Seated Figures No. 1, is in a private collection. Each drawing reflects the specific conditions of the moment of its execution. As Kossoff has explained:

Every time the model sits everything has changed. You have changed, she has changed. The light has changed, the balance has changed. The directions you try to remember are no longer there and, whether working from the model or landscape drawings, everything has to be reconstructed daily, many many times.
(Kossoff, quoted in Venice Biennale 1995, p.25.)

Throughout his career Kossoff has made portrait drawings, usually of family and friends; his parents have featured a number of times from the 1950s onwards. In terms of the rendering of the subject in this particular drawing, mother and father seem to be locked in a relation of interdependency. The father looks weary and vigilant over his restful spouse. By contrast, the figure of the mother appears larger, a self-assured figure and reassuring presence. The use of charcoal and a vigorous line is also typical of Kossoff’s drawing practice.

Further reading
Leon Kossoff, ‘Nothing is ever the same’, Leon Kossoff, Recent Paintings, exhibition catalogue, British Pavilion, XLVI Venice Biennale 1995, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1996, pp.25–6.
Richard Kendall, Drawing to Painting, Leon Kossoff Drawings and Prints after Nicolas Poussin, London 2000.
Catherine Lampert and Tom Hunt, The Mystery of Appearance, London 2011, reproduced p.109.

Elena Crippa
April 2016

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