Leon Kossoff

(born 21 March, 1926) is a British expressionist painter, known for portraits, life drawings and cityscapes of London, England.

Leon Kossoff

Leon Kossoff

Leon Kossoff was born in 1926 in Islington, London, and spent most of his early life living there with his Russian Jewish parents. In 1938, he attended the Hackney Downs (Grocers) School in London. In 1939, he was evacuated with the school to King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where he lived with Mr and Mrs R.C. Bishop, who encouraged his interest in art. During this time, Kossoff made his first paintings. When he returned to London in 1943, Kossoff went to St Martin’s School of Art, and studied commercial art. He also attended life drawing classes in the evenings at Toynbee Hall.

After his education was completed he spent three years in military service with the Royal Fusiliers, attached to the 2nd Battalion Jewish Brigade, and served in Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany. After his military service, he returned to the St. Martin’s School of Art in 1949, and at Borough Polytechnic, took special classes under David Bomberg from 1950 to 1952. He was also influenced by another one of his teacher’s students, Frank Auerbach. Both young artists dealt with similar emotions and subject matter in their work, and employed heavy impasto in their paintings. Kossoff chose his subject matter mostly from the area of London where he was born. From 1950–1953, Kossoff’s studio was located at Mornington Crescent; he then moved to Bethnal Green, where he lived until 1961. Kossoff studied at The Royal College of Art from 1953–1956.

In 1956, Kossoff joined Helen Lessore’s Beaux Arts Gallery, located on Bruton Place in London.

In 1959, Kossoff began to teach at the Regent Street Polytechnic, the Chelsea School of Art, and the St Martin’s School of Art, all of which were in London. While teaching, he continued his artistic career, and soon started featuring in many galleries and shows, along with his friend Frank Auerbach and other artists, such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Keith Critchlow a school friend from St. Martin’s. In the early 1960s, he also contributed to the influential ‘X’ magazine (which was founded by the painter Patrick Swift), along with artists such as Auerbach, Craigie Atchison, Bacon, and Freud. During this time, Kossoff moved his studio to Willesden Junction, and in 1966, moved his studio to Willesden Green, where he lives and works today.

In 2007 the National Gallery (London), held an exhibition of Kossoff’s work entitled “Leon Kossoff: Drawing from Painting”.

Kossoff was offered the honour of Commander of British Empire (CBE), by the Queen Elizabeth II, but he refused the honour.

Leon evolved a method of painting that entailed the heavy reworking of thick impasto to try to provide a truthful rendering of people and places he knew well. Drawing is given primacy as an expression of his commitment and involvement with the subject, and painting itself is conceived as a form of drawing.

In 2010, Kossoff exhibited a traveling show of new paintings and drawings, beginning at Annely Juda Fine Art, London, then traveling to Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, and ending at L.A. Louver, Los Angeles.

The National Gallery, London
14 March-1 July 2007

Leon Kossoff: London Landscapes

“Leon Kossoff is the pre-eminent painter in Britain today”

“Leon Kossoff is one of Britain’s most significant artists. The National Gallery, London is showing an exhibition devoted to his drawing from painting, which is fundamental to his oeuvre. In the same vein as the National Gallery’s millennium exhibition, ‘Encounters: A dialogue with art from the past’ (2000), the Kossoff exhibition addresses the creative process itself. ‘Encounters’ took 24 contemporary artists of international stature, including Kossoff, and invited them to choose a work of art in the famous collection as a starting point for a work of art. The artists included Auerbach, Bourgeois, Clemente, Freud, Johns, Kiefer, Hockney, Viola, Rego and Tapies – an international and varied line-up of artists spanning cultural phenomena and style. The result was one of the finest exhibitions of contemporary art and ideas.”

Examples of Leon Kossoff’s Works

Leon Kossoff

Leon Kossoff

Watch a slideshow of Leon Kossoff’s work…