L.A. Louver, Los Angeles
Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 2002)
L.A. Louver, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010
London, Tate Gallery, Leon Kossoff, June - September 1996, p. 159, no. 88, illustrated in colour and illustrated on the front cover in colour
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno; Monterrey, Museum of Contemporary Art
Monterrey, La Mirada Fuerte: Pintura Figurative de Londres, April - September 2000, p.65, no.41, illustrated
Throughout the late 1980s and ‘90s – when the artist had entered his seventh decade – Kossoff’s brush would continually return to render Hawksmoor’s architectural landmark. The son of Jewish parents of Ukrainian heritage, Kossoff grew up in the neighbourhood surrounding Spitalfields; as such, this East London icon affected a profound impression on the artist as a boy. The present work is utterly imbued with a vertiginous sense of wonder at this imposing ecclesiastical building as it soars into the sky. With towering figures occupying the foreground, Kossoff masterfully cranes our necks to a child-like view of the church. Capturing this eighteenth-century landmark with the full force of his painterly arsenal, this painting depicts a dear childhood memory immortalised in paint. As Paul Woodhouse, the curator of his solo Tate show in 1996, eloquently noted, “Among the many subjects of Kossoff’s art from the 1980s onwards, the paintings and drawings of Christ Church, Spitalfields, are of particular importance” (Paul Woodhouse, in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Leon Kossoff, London 1996, p. 33).
The present work and the wider Christ Church series are tied to Kossoff’s rising critical and artistic acclaim during the mid-1990s. Indeed, midway through the decade Kossoff was selected for the most prestigious accolade in international art – an exhibition at the Venice Biennale for its 100th year anniversary. Representing Britain, this show was curated by renowned art critic David Sylvester and significantly featured the present work. Only a year later in 1996, this same painting would take pride of place in Kossoff’s major retrospective at the Tate Gallery. Indeed, prominently exhibited at both major events, there is no doubting the pre-eminence and importance of the Christ Church paintings within Kossoff’s practice.
In the 1995 Venice Biennale exhibition catalogue, Kossoff chose to focus on his love affair with Christ Church, writing: “I walked once again down Brick Lane toward Christ Church, Spitalfields, a building which like St Paul's has always been part of my life" recalls Kossoff, "and, in the dusty sunlight of that August day, when this part of London still looks and feels like the London of Blake's Jerusalem, I find myself involved once again in making drawings and the idea for a painting begins to emerge. The urgency that drives me to work with the pressures of the accumulation of memories and the unique quality of the subject on this particular day but also with the awareness that time is short, that soon the mass of this building will be dwarfed by more looming office blocks and overshadowed, the characters of the building will be lost forever, for it is by its monumental flight into unimpeded space that we remember this building" (Leon Kossoff, ‘Nothing is ever the same’, in: Exh. Cat., XLVI Venice Biennale, British Pavilion (and travelling), Leon Kossoff, 1995, p. 25). Shining through is Kossoff’s passionately romantic engagement with the city he calls home. Only a year later, he would proclaim, "London, like the paint I use seems to be in my bloodstream. It's always moving – the skies, the streets, the buildings, the people who walk past me when I draw have become part of my life" (Leon Kossoff cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Leon Kossoff, London 1996, p. 36).
The dedicated return to a single personally-profound subject matter speaks in equal measure to the significance of London to Kossoff’s imagination as it does to the very act of painting. In this, Christ Church, Summer Afternoon stands testament to an artist so conversant with a particular subject matter that the work becomes a celebration of style, technique, and method. As the painter and critic Lawrence Gowing declared: “I know nothing quite like this in current painting – this confessional network of the chance that betrays how a painter gave himself to his image” (Lawrence Gowing cited in: Exh. Cat., Annely Juda Fine Arts (and travelling), Leon Kossoff: London Landscapes, 2013-14, p. 21). A celebration of paint, cathedrals and the memories of youth, the series finds an apt comparison to Claude Monet’s repeated painting of Rouen Cathedral, John Constable’s reworking of Salisbury Cathedral, or if thinking about the landscape of youth, Cezanne’s continual revisiting of his childhood landscape, Montagne Sainte Victoire. Yet the closest comparison must surely lie in the canvases his friend and once fellow student, Frank Auerbach has dedicated to Mornington Crescent, only a few short miles away. They stand together in their celebration of the possibilities of pure painterly figuration, in their romanticisation of London, and in their almost sculptural response to existential questions about the value of paint in the post-war period. They speak to the influence of their mutual teacher David Bomberg who theorised that “drawing is sculpturally conceived in the full like architecture” (David Bomberg cited in: Exh. Cat., XLVI Venice Biennale, op. cit., p. 17). Architectural in nature, Christ Church, Summer Afternoon ranks as one of the greatest British architectural paintings, evoking his teacher's well known phrase, “style is ephemeral, form is eternal” (Ibid.).
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