Leon Kossoff. Photo: Toby Glanville.

Leon Kossoff (1926–2019)

British painter Leon Kossoff, known for his gritty depictions of postwar London and his unapologetic portrayals of the human condition, has died at the age of ninety-two. “Our thoughts are with his friends and family, who along with his beloved hometown of London, were the essence of his being,” said Peter Goulds, founding director of LA Louver gallery, which announced his passing.

Born to Russian Jewish immigrants in East London in 1926, Kossoff said that a visit to the National Gallery of Art, where he saw Rembrandt van Rijn’s painting Woman Bathing in a Stream, 1654, at the age of nine would serve as a transformative moment in his life. He enrolled at St. Martin’s School of Art in 1943, but his studies were interrupted in 1945, when he left to serve three years in the military. After World War II ended, Kossoff went on to study at the Borough Polytechnic, under David Bomberg, and the Royal College of Art in London.

Dedicated to rendering the changing cityscape of London, Kossoff worked in painting, drawing, and printmaking. “Ever since the age of twelve, I have drawn and painted London . . . the strange ever-changing light, the endless streets and the shuddering feel of the sprawling city linger in my mind like a faintly glimmering memory,” the artist said.

Kossoff began showing his work at Helen Lessore’s Beaux Arts Gallery in the 1950s. He would also present work at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery and National Gallery. He rose to international prominence in the 1980s, after his work was featured in the exhibition “Eight Figurative Painters: Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Patrick George, Leon Kossoff, Euan Uglow” at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1995, he represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale, and in 1996, the Tate mounted a major retrospective of his work.

Kossoff’s paintings and works on paper can be found in the collections of numerous institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate in London, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.