Leon Kossoff (British, born 1926) Nude on a Red Bed No. 3 1968
Lot 10AR
Leon Kossoff
(British, born 1926)
Nude on a Red Bed No. 3
Sold for £ 536,750 (US$ 759,204) inc. premium

Lot Details
Leon Kossoff (British, born 1926)
Nude on a Red Bed No. 3

oil on board

61 by 77 cm.
24 by 30 3/8 in.

This work was executed in 1968.


  • This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings being edited by Andrea Rose.

    Collection of the Artist, London
    Ashley Kossoff Collection, London (a gift from the above)
    The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo
    Private Collection, UK
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, Leon Kossoff: Recent Paintings, 1972, p. 40, no. 33, illustrated in black and white
    Oslo, The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Double Reality: The School of London, 1994, p. 76, no. 37, illustrated in colour

    Leon Kossoff's Nude on a Red Bed No. 3 from 1968 stands as one of this fine artist's most important paintings and certainly the most significant early work to appear at auction in a decade. Formerly in the collection of both the Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo, and the artist's own sister, the present work combines all of Kossoff's most notable achievements: a virtuosity with oil paint, an implicit understanding of light and total command of the pictorial plane. So few of Kossoff's great works appear on the market that the present work represents an unparalleled opportunity to acquire not only a masterful painting but a cornerstone in the artist's career.

    The creation of a Kossoff painting is a slow, painstaking process. The many hours of work which went into the composition of his extraordinary Nude on a Red Bed No. 3 are evident in its thick layers of paint, the heavy impasto built up over days, weeks and months. Such is the depth of the paint in a typical Kossoff oil on board that it can often take up to a decade to fully dry. The result of these labours is a work of art which clearly demonstrates the artist's unrivalled skill for observation. While Kossoff himself clearly controls the paint as he lays it onto the support, forming these licks, drips and waves of lustrous oil, in order to complete the work he has to give himself over to his unconscious. In describing these final, crucial moments in the development of such a composition the artist reveals an experience which sounds almost spiritual: "I am always working to make it more like the sitter, to make the structure more real, more intense – but in the end, and the final minute, something else happens, something overtakes me in his presence, or in the presence of whoever I am painting...I stop thinking, for better or worse" (the artist in: Leon Kossoff: From the Early Years 1957-1967, New York 2009, p. 28).

    In Nude on a Red Bed No. 3, we see a female figure lying, apparently asleep, her body curled on her side. The figure and the room in which she rests are both rendered in typically earthy tones, the soft skin of the nude seeming to reflect the warm colours of the bedspread below. Although she is unidentified, it is likely that the subject is the artist's long-term model Fidelma, who posed for many of his greatest nudes, including the Fidelma No.1 now in the collection of Leeds Art Gallery. The surface of the present work is rich and sumptuous, the oil paint applied so thickly that is becomes a virtual high relief.

    This painting is archetypal of the School of London, a coined termed by Kossoff's contemporary R.B. Kitaj. This group continued to paint figurative scenes and portraits, which proved to be a radical choice in the prevailing trend toward abstraction. In painting the figure Kossoff approached the task in both one and two-dimensions, as exemplified in the present work, where the oil is sculptural, almost topographic, depicting the sitter over three dimensions. The present work belongs to a series of four paintings on the same subject that were painted in 1968. This subject would prove to be a fertile ground for Kossoff's work as he returned to it again the next year in Nude on a Red Bed, Summer, 1969 and several years later, in Nude on a Red Bed, 1972. The present work is dominated by the play of colour and the model's skin appears luminous against the burnt ochre of the bed and the dark setting behind it. There is a wonderful sense of changing light created in the varied tones of the bed spread, which is also reflected on the model's skin, and one gets a sense of the day passing as the sun moves across the sky outside.

    Painted with a gestural vigour comparable to the masters of the early Twentieth Century, the present work demonstrates how deeply Kossoff's oeuvre is anchored in the tradition of European avant-garde, constantly pushing the boundaries of painterly language. The posture and the presence of the female body take over the entire composition and capture its light, linking Kossoff to the traditions of German Expressionism. Echoing the forceful brushstroke of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, the actual rendering of reality becomes secondary. What matters more is how an image is perceived, how it resounds and reverberates within us – and most importantly, how the artist expresses this sensation, allowing us onlookers to participate in this fleeting moment of intimacy.

    Despite frequently returning to the timeless subject of the nude, each of these Nudes brings a unique approach to the subject. As Kossoff and his School of London contemporaries aptly demonstrate, the subject matter can still be dynamic and enthralling, bringing new ways of looking and seeing, and new ways of harnessing the qualities of the medium. Like Frank Auerbach, a close friend of almost seventy years whose works often display a similar interest in surface and texture, Kossoff has always been completely dedicated to painting, and it is surely this which has produced the sense of visual authenticity that we see here: "Kossoff drives his vision hard, yet at the same time resists any kind of excess. There is no posturing with tricks or easy delights. Some of his nudes seem to be literally writhing before our eyes; but they are not 'caught' in the paint, they are more precisely the life of the paint functioning conterminously with form and at the same time imbued with feeling" (David Mercer in: David Mercer, Leon Kossoff: New Paintings, London 1972, p. 11).
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  1. Amy Thompson
    Specialist - Contemporary Art
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