'The fabric of my work through the last forty years has been dependent on those people who have so patiently sat for me, each one uniquely transforming my space by their presence...'
(The Artist, quoted in Paul Moorhouse, Leon Kossoff, exh.cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1996, p.36).
The human figure has always been at the heart of Kossoff's artistic practice. Ever since he accidently walked into a life drawing class taking place in the Toynbee Hall, Spitalfields, in 1943, he has strongly believed in the necessity of working from life and in the assiduous observation of the model. Indeed, this approach instructs each and every one of his subjects and alongside his concern with the figure, Kossoff has developed a parallel interest in the urban landscape and with the same discerning eye, tirelessly returns to the same subjects, such as the railway lines at Willesden Junction (see lot 99), to capture new experiences and responses.
Following his earliest figure paintings such as Seated Woman (1951, Private Collection), Kossoff has demonstrated an acute physical relationship with the composition, constantly reworking and manipulating the paint surface, literally encapsulating the essence of the model in thick impasto. It was the boldness of this approach that initially restricted his development at St Martin's and it was only on attending David Bomberg's evening classes at Borough Polytechnic with Frank Auerbach from 1950-52 that he was able to fully develop in this vein. He later recalled that 'coming to Bomberg's classes, was like coming home... the life room at St Martin's at that time was very rigid and inhibiting and 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. The atmostphere was intense and everyone was involved in an energetic manner...' (Kossoff, 1995, quoted in Paul Moorhouse, Leon Kossoff, exh.cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1996, p.12).
He began an ongoing series of nude studies of his wife around this time, however, it was not until the late 1960s that he developed his seminal series of nudes such as Nude on a Red Bed No.1 (1968, Private Collection) and Nude on a Red Bed (1969, Private Collection) to which the present work is clearly related. In contrast to earlier works such as Seated Nude No. 1 (1963, Private Collection), he began to delineate the contours of the female figure with a more dynamic outline, clearly evident in the present work, and infused his palette with a richer range of red, yellow and blue tones.
Executed almost 40 years after his first experience of a life drawing class, the present Nude on a Bed is just as immediate as if he was coming across the subject for the very first time. As he has explained, 'every time the model sits everything has changed. You have changed, she has changed. The light has changed, the balance has changed. The directions you try to remember are no longer there and, whether working from the model or landscape drawings, everything has to be reconstructed daily, many, many times...' (Kossoff, 1987, ibid., p.22).
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