LEON KOSSOFF (1926-2019)
LEON KOSSOFF (1926-2019)
LEON KOSSOFF (1926-2019)
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LEON KOSSOFF (1926-2019)
4 More
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE FAMILY OF LEON KOSSOFF
LEON KOSSOFF (1926-2019)

Portrait of Father

Details
LEON KOSSOFF (1926-2019)
Portrait of Father
inscribed and dated 'PORTRAIT/OF FATHER/1961' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36 ¼ x 23 in. (92.1 x 58.4 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Provenance
A gift from the artist to the present owner circa 1989.
Literature
A. Rose, Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, London, 2021, p. 111, no. 46, illustrated.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

‘Every time the model sits everything has changed … everything has to be reconstructed daily, many many times. A painter is engaged in a working process and the work is concerned with making the paint relate to his experience of seeing and being in the world’ - Leon Kossoff

Painted in 1961, Portrait of Father is an arresting, fabulously textured image of Leon Kossoff’s father Wolf. This important painting is one of Kossoff’s earliest depictions of a highly personal subject that he would return to over a twenty year period. Against a plain, earth-toned background, the subject’s likeness is rendered with Kossoff’s characteristically heavy impasto. Like the additive and subtractive process of sculpting in clay or plaster, the forms were built up using thick layers of oil paint, which were then pushed around and scraped away. This has caused different colours to intermingle in unpredictable ways across the painting’s undulating surface. His father’s body and suit are expressed using parallel, linear strokes that leave deep furrows, evoking folds in cloth or a pinstripe pattern. The focus, however, is the face, which has been closely worked in the quest to capture the sitter’s likeness. Contrasting with a sombre colour palette, it has a luminosity and warmth heightened by areas of red pigment, also picked up in his tie. One senses the physical proximity of Kossoff to his father while executing this portrait, as well as the closeness of their relationship. His father's head and body fill almost the entire vertical space of this large canvas. The visual distillation of his image to a few essentials could only come from decades of familiarity: bowed posture, business-like suit with jaunty tie, hooded eyes and hands folded demurely. Kossoff’s close physical engagement with the canvas, and his battle with his materials to do justice to a personally important subject, is also evident.

Leon Kossoff’s parents Wolf and Rachel arrived in London in the first decade of the 20th Century after fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in Ukraine. Wolf ran a bakery in London’s East End, and the family remained in the area, becoming a part of the tapestry of London life on which Kossoff focused throughout his career. London’s National Gallery was a major influence on his life and career; he first visited when he was nine years old and would later visit regularly to sketch. He recalled that ‘from the earliest days when I scribbled from the Rembrandts in the Mond Room my 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 the mind’ (quoted in exh. cat., London, South Bank Centre, Past & Present: contemporary artists draw from the masters, 1987, p. 38). The influence of the paintings Kossoff saw at the National Gallery, such as Rembrandt's An Old Man in an Armchair, circa 1650s, is felt in the emotional intensity and sensitive portrayal of old age in the present work. Postcards and photographs of other paintings he admired by artists such as Cézanne, Poussin, Velázquez and Delacroix remained pinned to the wall of his studio since his student days.

‘[Leon] learned how to work because his father laboured eighteen hours a day in the baker’s shop’ - Frank Auerbach

Wolf supported his son’s nascent artistic interests, steering Kossoff towards enrolling on a course in commercial art at St. Martin’s. His studies were interrupted by a period of national service, and coloured by his failure of a drawing exam, as well as frustration at the perceived conservatism of the teaching. More positive was Kossoff’s introduction there to Frank Auerbach. The pair formed a close friendship and hugely productive artistic association, working together at his father's bakery and in 1950-52 attending drawing classes led by David Bomberg at Borough Polytechnic. Bomberg’s open-minded teaching style and equal emphasis on close observation and intuitive response had a profound impact on Kossoff. Combined with Kossoff’s engagement with the materiality of oil paint, this approach can be seen in many of the artist’s portraits from the 1950s and early 1960s.

Bomberg’s classes equipped Kossoff with a powerful methodology for self-expression, and he stated that attending them ‘was like coming home’ (quoted in exh. cat., Leon Kossoff, London, Tate, 1996, p.12). In 1961, the same year the present work was executed, the idea of painting as a homecoming became even more poignant. Kossoff relocated to a humble home-studio space in Willesden Junction, overlooking the railway lines. Nevertheless, he was a native of the East End and was now at a considerable remove from his parents and his roots. He was also troubled ‘by mounting doubts concerning the progress of his work [but] sustained by a sense of his relation to the world and a need to express that relation through his art. The resulting tension produced some of his most extreme, and at times disturbing, images.’ (Op. cit., p. 18). Exemplified by the present work, the emotionally charged series of portraits of family and friends produced between 1961 and 1966 perfectly capture the artist’s restlessly inventive spirit, his need for profound human connection, and his drive to express it honestly through his art.

Remaining in the artist’s family, Portrait of Father, 1961, is an exciting discovery having never previously been exhibited.

‘… these reproductions have been with me ever since I had a studio’ - Leon Kossoff

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