Leon Kossoff in his studio.

LONDON - Two parallel interests have dominated Leon Kossoff’s long career. His body of work is divided between intimate portraits of close family and friends, and deeply personal portrayals of the London landscape.

The December Modern & Post-War British Art sale features two great examples from each theme: a portrait of his close friend and fellow artist John Lessore and a gouache of the flower stall at the Embankment Underground Station.

Like his contemporaries Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Kossoff painted that which he knew best. In limiting his subject to the immediate vicinity of his neighbourhood, the anonymous people that passed through these places and the friends that posed for his portraits, Kossoff transformed the everyday into the extraordinary.

Leon Kossoff’s Head of John Lessore will be offered at the Modern & Post-War British Art sale. Estimate £30,000-50,000.

The human figure has always been at the heart of Kossoff's work. Ever since he accidently walked into a life drawing class in Toynbee Hall, Spitalfields, in 1943, he has strongly believed in the necessity of working from life and in the assiduous observation of his model.

Through the constant reworking and manipulating of the painting’s surface, Kossoff encapsulates the essence of his model in thick impasto or vigorously applied charcoal and pastel markings. He thus demonstrates an acute physical relationship with his compositions. It was the boldness of this approach that initially restricted his development at Central St Martins College of Arts & Design, and it was only after attending David Bomberg's evening classes at Borough Polytechnic with Auerbach from 1950-52 that he was able to fully develop in this vein. He later recalled “I remember a feeling of relief and excitement when I first entered Bomberg's class. People were working in a way I'd only previously dared to work on my own.”

Alongside his concern with the figure, he developed an interest in the urban landscape. With the same discerning eye, Kossoff tirelessly returned to the same scene in order to capture new experiences and responses. The ordinary places that formed part of his everyday experience became his focus, painting and drawing familiar London scenes: the lively stations, flower stalls, churches and the North London railway line that runs at the bottom of his garden.


Leon Kossoff’s Embankment Station And Hungerford Bridge I will be offered at the Modern & Post-War British Art sale. Estimate £70,000-100,000.

Kossoff's work is enlivened by a tangible and wholly unique sense of familiarity with its subject, capturing the private face of long-lived experience in an active metropolis. Although he frequently returns to paint the same scene twice, the changing mood, light, and seasons prevent him from wandering into the realms of repetition. It is thus this changing landscape of London that draws the artist back to his urban landscape again and again.