'In contrast to the congested energy of the early portraits, these images possess a startling clarity, especially the paintings of Chaim. After his father's death, Kossoff began drawing his brother in 1983. Unusually, he found a rapid, almost immediate, sympathy with the subject. The resulting figure studies are among his most successful, combining an honest warmth of feeling with excitement in the act of creation' (P. Moorhouse, exhibition catalogue, Leon Kossoff, London, Tate Gallery, 1996, p. 33).
Rendered in Kossoff's signature densely layered impasto, the present painting is a warm and affectionate portrayal of Chaim, the artist's brother. Painted in 1989, Small Head of Chaim is a highly intimate and majestic portrait: Chaim appears luminous and endearing, at once dignified and modest with the slight turn of the figure's cheek. The materiality of the paint comes alive in this portrait, its physicality and weightiness draping over the board, concealing the entire surface. Kossoff's brush-strokes and dripping paint further emphasise the flatness of the picture plane and his medium, recall his quick, gestural drawing technique.
Kossoff was acutely aware of the importance of his sitters, commenting: 'The fabric of my work through the last forty years has been dependent on those people who have so patiently sat for me, each one uniquely transforming my space by their presence' (L. Kossoff quoted in op. cit., p. 36). In Small Head of Chaim, the spirit of the sitter emanates from the picture plane, culled from the artist's direct involvement and dialogue with his brother, and experienced through his masterful painterly technique.
This work will be included in the forthcoming publication of the catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings of Leon Kossoff, edited by Andrea Rose and due to be published by Modern Art Press in 2020.