Important Australian + International Fine Art
6 May 2015


born 1926, British

oil on board

56.0 x 46.0 cm

inscribed verso: LK0028

$120,000 - 160,000
Sold for $180,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 39 - 6 May 2015, Melbourne

Annandale Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney, acquired from the above in 2001


Leon Kossoff, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, 13 April – 20 May, 2000, then touring to Annely Juda Fine Art, London, 1 June – 22 July, 2000 (labels attached verso)
Leon Kossoff: Paintings & Drawings, Annandale Galleries (in association with L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice, USA), Sydney, 21 March – 12 May, 2001

Catalogue text

Contained within the remarkable Head of Heinz I, 1997 are all the conundrums and astonishments associated with Leon Kossoff. There is the way he interacts with 'time', for example. At one extreme, sitters come back week after week, month after month, sometimes stretching into years. Yet at the end of each day, at the other extreme, the artist scrapes off all the paint he has so painstakingly applied. All that is left is a stained canvas, the silt of his acute observations. This, in turn, forms the emotional footprint to what will be the next day's work. And so Kossoff continues his Sisyphean task of pushing a canvas up the seemingly never-ending hill of his own impeccably high standards. When the summit is eventually reached and the portrait is deemed complete, it all happens with enormous speed at the end of a single day's work. Its arrival is more through an act of sculpting or modeling than a layering of brushstrokes, so thick is the paint he applies. You can see this clearly in Head of Heinz I, where the head - angled against the sloping shoulders and sitting above a Cézanne-like triangle that is the neck - is built up more like a sculptural bas-relief than through traditional painterly techniques. Because of this, the head of Heinz appears to float in a classic figure-and-ground relationship above the paint surface. The warm under-painting of the background, contrasting with the muted blues of the sitter's shirt and the green halo around his head, add to the sense of the figure 'hovering' above the comparatively flatter ground. The result is a fragmented narrative, assembled through sitting after sitting, in which the artist questions all that he sees and translates it for us through the alchemy of paint.

As if echoing fellow European émigré Sir Ernst Gombrich's tenets of 'schema and correction' or 'making and matching'1, Kossoff revealed in a recent interview, 'The truth is that all my life I've been filled with self-doubt,2 And it is this advancement through doubt that makes his art so significant, and such a child of its late-modernist times. This essential 'doubting' begins long before paint is applied to board or canvas. It is born through his daily practice of drawing, an intellectual and emotional activity that shadows the painting's progress through the almost endless sittings. Some subjects, such as his artist friend John Lessore, have been sitting for Kossoff for over forty years. Both men have watched each other age, like fine wines. What must their conversations have been like over those four decades of hard looking?

Poussin, Michelangelo, Constable, Giacometti, Cézanne, and Matisse have all been evoked to describe Kossoff's place in the evolving pantheon of great artists. Direct influences, however, begin with fellow student Frank Auerbach, and their inspirational teacher David Bomberg who were alumni of what has become known as the Slade art school's 'crisis of brilliance'. More broadly categorised as the School of London, this group includes Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and R.B. Kitaj, the American artist who coined the phrase.

1. Gombrich, E., Art and Illusion: a Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, Phaidon, London, 1960, pp. 5-7
2. Kossoff, L., as quoted in Wullschlager, J.,'Coming Home', The Financial Times, London, 3 May 2013, p. 23