Leon Kossoff in New York, NY

Back in February, I took a quick visit to New York City to celebrate my daughter’s 29th birthday and (coincidentally) my own, most recent, 29th birthday as well. The trip was short so I had only a few hours each day to squeeze in some art, but am I ever glad I did.

I walked up to Chelsea to see Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. The show was part of a traveling exhibition that began in London, and then moved to Los Angeles and New York. The sixteen paintings on view in New York dated from 1963 to 1993.

Portrait of Father No 3, 1972
Oil on board
60 x 48 in

I can’t believe I had never seen Kossoff’s work before. Fortunately, I was the only one in the gallery, as others might have thought I was crazy. I’m pretty sure I was audibly gasping in awe as I walked back and forth between paintings, then sitting on the round bench, scooting around it, seeing the paintings at different distances. I had fallen in love at first sight with Kossoff’s work, and never wanted to leave.

Portrait of Rosalind No 1, 1973
Oil on board
57 x 48 in
Detail

“Leon Kossoff is recognised as one of the world’s greatest Post-War figurative painters with an appreciation of life’s everyday activities, finding poignancy and beauty in seemingly mundane urban settings. Born to a family of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine in Central London, his childhood was centered in his working-class experiences helping with his father’s bakery, and then serving in the British military in the 1940s. Following his return to London, Kossoff attended St. Martin’s School of Art, though he supplemented his studies attending David Bomberg’s classes at Borough Polytechnic, where he was instructed to focus on experiences rather than just appearances.” (Mitchell-Innes & Nash)

From “Cephalus and Aurora” by Poussin No 2, 1981
Oil on board
36 1/2 x 48 1/4 in
Red Brick School Building, Winter, 1982
Oil on board
48 x 60 in
A Street in Willesden, Early Summer, 1983
Oil on board
39 1/4 x 54 1/4 in

“Together with the artists Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and R.B. Kitaj, Kossoff became known in the late 1970s as part of the “School of London.” Having lived his lifetime in London (from which he rarely traveled), his paintings of his native city are rendered with the familiarity of a close friend. Complicated, sometimes bleak, but always vital and teeming with activity, Kossoff’s paintings reflected London’s transformation, stretching from post-war desolation to international affluence towards the end of the 20th century.” (Mitchell-Innes & Nash)

Between Kilburn and Willesden Green, Winter Evening, 1991
Oil on board
30 x 46 in
Christ Church, Spitalfields, Early Summer, 1992
Oil on board
71 3/4 x 48 in

I am now in possession of the show catalogue, as well as the newly released 640 page, absolutely gorgeous, Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonne of the Oil Paintings. Happy birthday to me!

5 thoughts on “Leon Kossoff in New York, NY

  1. Fascinating. I had never heard of him, but see the allure. I would have been gasping with you.

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