With Frank Auerbach (88), Leon Kossoff (92) is the last Grand Old Man of English painting. While his catalogue raisonné is underway, this brief catalogue serves well as a survey of his works by gathering together those paintings and works on paper that relate to his life in London, namely its cityscapes and portraits, plus his vivid transcriptions of Old Master paintings he studied in the National Gallery, the Louvre, the Prado. Most of the paintings are executed in his signature impasto of earth colours (although his 1997 Bacchanal before a Herm, No. 3, after Poussin’s painting in the National Gallery, might almost be reaching towards Cézanne in its lightness). Willesden, Dalston, Spitalfields (shown here, Christ Church Spitalfields, 1989) and some anonymous building sites and railway bridges are perhaps the best representatives of Kossoff’s energetic brush when applied to city views. Kossoff has been noted for his reticence (although he has given interviews on half a dozen occasions since the late 1950s and has made a number of published statements), and the book includes two revealing quotations by the artist about his life and work, one a 1995 letter to David Sylvester from the Tate archives in which he says tellingly, “I never know when a picture is finished. I stop when it’s impossible to go on with, or, when it looks like the drawing, or, when the image opens up a dialogue with the possibility of making another version”.
- Andrew Dempsey, Lulu Norman and Jackie Wullschlager, Leon Kossoff: a London Life, Casemate Publishers in association with Piano Nobile, 144pp, £40 (hb)