Lot 114
  • 114

Leon Kossoff

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
31,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Leon Kossoff
  • Marsyas (A Memory) No.2
  • oil on board
  • 51.5 by 46cm.; 20 by 18in.


Sale, Butterfield and Butterfield, Los Angeles, 21st April 1994, lot 1152, where acquired by David Bowie


London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Leon Kossoff, 9th September - 8th October 1988, un-numbered catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In 1936, aged just ten, Leon Kossoff first discovered the National Gallery. The Old Masters on display there would became an essential resource to him and, before public opening hours, Kossoff would record his personal response to these works with rapid sketches. Initially intended as learning aids and not for exhibition, these drawings are as closely scrutinized, energetically worked and emotionally charged as his more well-known cityscapes and portraits, and they form a vital part of the artist's work. Indeed, this dialogue with paintings from the past creates a central influence on the rest of his oeuvre, reflecting the sense of grandeur and monumentality which he successfully creates in his everyday scenes of London.

Kossoff would have seen Titian's late masterpiece The Flaying of Marsyas (circa 1575, National Museum, Kroměříž, Czech Republic) at the Royal Academy's 1983-4 exhibition 'The Genius of Venice 1500 - 1600'. His deeply felt experience of Titian’s final masterpiece, which at that time had not been displayed outside the Czech Republic since it was acquired 1673, is evident in his energetic and dramatic rendering of the swirling mass of crazed figures. His restricted, yet radiant, earthy palette echoes Titian's own colour scheme and there is no distraction from the gruesome brutality of the subject matter which is drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Marsyas brags that his skills on the auros are superior to Apollo’s on the lyre and challenges him to a musical contest. Apollo of course wins and flays Marsyas alive for his hubris, a fate Ovid describes with violent relish.

Titian's powerful depiction of Marsyas's fate has been subsumed into Kossoff's own distinctively energetic method of 'mark making' in this, his second painting of the subject. Here, the barely discernible figures on the right are reduced to energetic brush strokes which attack in a rapid frenzy of movement. At the center, a stillness surrounds Marsyas, hanging limp and helpless, the near-death expression carefully explored. Apollo, represented twice in the work, methodically cuts the flesh from his limbs in the foreground and plays his lyre in upper right, as if oblivious to the ongoing torture. The emotional force of this work captures the horror and pathos of the tale and is testament to the importance of Kossoff's ongoing dialogue with the Renaissance tradition. Kossoff himself stated 'my attitude to these works has always been to teach myself to draw from them, and, by repeated visits, to try to understand why certain pictures have a transforming effect on my mind' (the Artist, quoted in R. Rosenblum, Encounters: A Dialogue with Art from the Past, London, National Gallery Company ltd., 2000, pp. 224-225).