Leon Kossoff (1925-)

Artist Leon Kossoff was born in Islington to first generation Russian immigrant parents. As a child he lived in the East End of London, where his parents ran a bakery.

Find out more about Leon Kossoff

Work by Leon Kossoff in the Ben Uri collection

Christ Church, Spitalfields, Spring by Leon Kossoff

Christ Church, Spitalfields, Spring (1992)

Portrait of NM Seedo by Leon Kossoff

Portrait of NM Seedo (1957)

Two Seated Figures

Two Seated Figures (1982)

Leon Kossoff biography

Childhood

Artist Leon Kossoff was born in 1925 in Islington, north London, to first generation Russian immigrant parents. As a child he lived in the East End of London, where his parents ran a bakery.

St Martin’s School of Art

He studied in London at St Martin’s School of Art from 1949–53, and at the Royal College of Art from 1953–6. Between 1950 and 1952 he also took evening classes at the Borough Polytechnic under David Bomberg.

Friendship with Frank Auerbach

With his fellow student Frank Auerbach, Kossoff developed a painterly style employing thickly applied layers of paint that are extensively reworked to reveal closely-observed portraits and cityscapes.

Recurring themes

His works are notable for their autobiographical content, representing close friends and family members, and very familiar parts of the areas of London in which he has lived: the familiarity of his subjects is crucial to Kossoff’s close looking.

Recurring motifs in his work include Kilburn Underground station, Christ Church, Spitalfields and Willesden children’s swimming pool.

Direct style

His paintings can be seen as an extension of his primary practice of drawing. The same direct, heavily worked style is evident in his drawing, Portrait of a Woman, which may depict his wife Rosalind. His etching, Two Seated Figures, takes the artist’s parents as its subjects, and is closely related to a painting of the same name in the Tate collection.

Old Masters at the National Gallery

A series of etchings produced in response to, and directly in front of, Old Master paintings, reveals Kossoff’s strong sense of artistic tradition.

He produced different versions of a single painting in his closely worked, expressionistic linear style, working from Poussin, Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt.

Solo Exhibitions

Kossoff had six solo exhibitions at Beaux Arts Gallery, London, between 1957 and 1964, and a further one-man show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1972.

Leon Kossoff lives and works in London.