Leon Kossoff (British, born 1926) Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring 1981

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Lot 30AR ○
Leon Kossoff
(British, born 1926)
Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring

Sold for £ 641,000 (US$ 796,650) inc. premium
Leon Kossoff (British, born 1926)
Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring

oil on board

137.2 by 167.7 cm.
54 by 66 in.

This work was executed in 1981.


  • Provenance
    Fischer Fine Art, London
    Private Collection, Europe
    Sale: Sotheby's, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art, 27 June 1991, Lot 44
    Saatchi Collection, London
    Private Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1992)
    Sale: Christie's, London, Post-War & Contemporary Art, Evening Sale, 19 October 2008, Lot 20
    Private Collection, London
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    New York, Hirschl and Adler, Leon Kossoff, 1983, no. 21, illustrated in colour on the cover of the exhibition catalogue (incorrectly dated)
    London, Fischer Fine Art; Venice, L.A. Louver, Leon Kossoff, Recent Work, 1984, p. 19, illustrated in black and white
    Delhi, Lalit Karla Akademi; Bombay, Jehangir Nicholson Museum of Modern Art, The Proper Study: Contemporary Figurative Paintings from Britain 1984-1985, p. 100, no. 71, illustrated in colour
    Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Venice, Museo d'Arte Moderna Ca' Pesaro; Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, A School of London: Six Figurative Painters, 1987-1988, no. 66, p. 90, illustrated in colour
    London, Tate Gallery, Leon Kossoff, 1996, p. 116, no. 60, illustrated in colour

    Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring is one of the greatest and most impressive works by Leon Kossoff ever to appear at auction. Painted in 1981 when the artist was at the height of his creative prowess this monumental work captures all the vigour and energy that Kossoff manages to exert on compositions through the medium of paint. Here we bear witness to a dense, vibrant image of London and its inhabitants, forged from a sheer mass of oil, adeptly applied, layered, dripped and drizzled across the picture plane until the scene almost emerges from the surface buzzing with energy and physicality. Kossoff is one of the towering British artists of the Twentieth Century, his influence upon other artists wholly emphatic and yet it is only now that his true value is being recognised outside the institutions and studios of the world.

    It's almost impossible to look at Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring without drawing comparisons with the work of his close friend and fellow artist Frank Auerbach. The two young Jewish émigrés studied together, initially at St Martins during the Second World War; and, subsequently in David Bomberg's evening classes at Borough Polytechnic, where their tutor encouraged an intuitive emotional response to scene and sitter, forsaking a controlled replication of subject matter. Kossoff's and Auerbach's very evocation of inner experience are conveyed through their deft handling of impasto, worked and reworked with rigour and urgency, until the ensuing visual chaos emerges into a hybrid of observational, rather than literal, representation that verges on abstraction. Their relationship was such that numerous portraits survive of Kossoff painted by Auerbach and vice versa and their works were born out of a deeply personal attachment to the people and places that formed their subject matter. Like Auerbach's celebrated landscapes of Camden and Mornington Crescent, Kossoff's Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring is thematically defined by its very sense of place, rooted in Willesden Junction, where he set up studio in 1961.

    Despite returning time and time again to these same locational motifs Kossoff's mastery lies in the fact that his subjects are never in danger of appearing staid or repetitive. In fact, his deep understanding of the fabric of place, not only enables him to capture the shifting appearance of light and atmosphere as the days and seasons progress, but also the transient human hustle and bustle that adds energy and life, making his works appear fresh and vital. The present work's title, Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring clearly sets the time of year in which it was executed, and is further articulated by the vast bright blue sky and vivid flashes of green foliage which instils a luminosity to the work. The bright pigments contrast with a similar work, Red Brick School Building, Winter, executed a year later, where the colours are more muted, and the figures huddled against the splatters of driving rain that punctuate the morass of sky. There is energy, atmosphere and mood here but it is of an entirely different kind, and each later rendition of Red Brick School Building proffers a unique intensity of its own.

    The importance of the present work is demonstrated by its illustrious history, formerly belonging in the Saatchi Collection, and included in a series of prestigious exhibitions culminating in Tate Britain's ground-breaking show Leon Kossoff in 1996. In recognition of his important contribution to Post-War British art Kossoff's work will also be showcased alongside works by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Michael Andrews, R.B. Kitaj and Frank Auerbach, in All Too Human, an exhibition of celebrated London-based artists in Tate Britain next year. The exhibition focuses on artists who depict intimate portrayals of human figures and their environment and the feelings these subjects evoke, which makes Kossoff an important and obvious artist for inclusion.

    In Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring, 1981 Kossoff charges an everyday London scene of pedestrians, cars and a school with lyrical intensity transforming it into an image of collective human experience, aptly demonstrating Kossoff's poetic treatment of person and place.

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Leon Kossoff (British, born 1926) Red Brick School Building, Willesden, Spring 1981
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