From the 1970s through the ’90s, Leon Kossoff would visit galleries in the early morning before they opened to the public. He liked to sketch renderings from all the great masters of Western art—Cézanne, Poussin, Goya, Rembrandt, Titian, and Veronese—all with his distinct expressionistic style. Now, decades later, Annely Juda Fine Art and Mitchell-Innes & Nash will exhibit over 40 of these works on paper in a solo booth at Frieze Masters, paying homage to both the Old Masters and to Kossoff, who reimagined these classic works.
While these drawings create a dialogue between artists from different eras, they are the products of a particular period in Kossoff’s career, when would frequent the National Gallery, the Royal Academy, and other London institutions, often focusing on masterpieces that had an energetic, even unnerving quality. This anxiety is easily translated in Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas and Cezanne’s Murder, with harsh dark lines somewhat concealing the dark events being portrayed, but also emphasizing their expressive terror.
Kossoff employed charcoal and colored chalk in somber tones, repeatedly drawing the same paintings over and over to absorb the light and composition of each work. “The subject is visited many times and lots of drawings are made, mostly very quickly,” Kossoff has said of his process. “The work is begun in the studio where each new drawing means a new start until one day a drawing appears which opens up the subject in a new way, so I work from the drawing as I do from the sitter. It’s the process I am engaged in that is important.”
His depiction of Goya’s The Madhouse is a prime example of Kossoff’s ability to translate the vitality of the work by altering the human silhouettes, obscuring their faces while also adding to the chaos of the mental asylum. Dynamic and mysterious, his interpretations of these masterful works illuminate his extraordinary artistic prowess at an early stage of his career.