Leon Kossoff b. 1926


With Beaux Arts Gallery, London
Theo Waddington Fine Art Ltd., London
Private Collection, c. 1997-98


1961, London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Leon Kossoff, 19 Oct. - 18 Nov. 1961, either cat. no. 9, 10, 11 or 12
2019, London, Piano Nobile, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 14 Nov. 2019 - 29 Jan. 2020, cat. no. 43


Susan Campbell, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 2019, Piano Nobile Publications, cat. no. 43, pp. 128-131 (col. illus.)
Young Man Seated is a rare charcoal of a figure subject from Kossoff's early career. The work shows John Lessore, a friend of the artist, seated in his wheelchair. John’s mother was Helen Lessore and, in consequence, he spent much of his time at the Beaux Arts Gallery. He was a popular sitter with a number of his mother’s artists, including not just Kossoff but also Michael Andrews, who painted John’s portrait in 1958. Disabled from the young age of sixteen, his wheelchair is depicted in sweeping lines of charcoal. The wheels emerge beneath the seated figure, heavily wrought and executed with energetic muscularity. Kossoff’s stamina and energy were his defining feature as an artist and Young Man Seated is strongly suggestive of those qualities.

Lessore was twenty-two when this drawing was made. It was five years earlier, in 1957, when he first started sitting for Kossoff. As he has explained to the curator Andrew Dempsey, ‘Initially it was for drawing. He had a horrible little room on the ground floor [of his Bethnal Green home] which he used for storing his work. He would push everything up as vertical as it would go to make space down one side of the room, the side of the window. He would put a paraffin stove between us and I would sit at one end and he would work at the other.’ Lessore has further recalled the regular schedule of sittings which Kossoff insisted on; he had a natural sense of time and would work for a three-hour period, holding fifteen-minute-long breaks at a regular interval. While the artist’s other important sitter of the period, N.M. Seedo, would attend in the morning, Lessore attended in the afternoon.

It is unclear whether this drawing was made in Kossoff’s Bethnal Green studio or his Willesden Junction studio, which he moved to in 1961. In either case, a powerful sense of constriction is suggested, with Lessore’s sedentary figure filling the sheet even to the edges. His feet project beyond the lower left edge of the support. The mood of the drawing is directly related to the conditions in which Kossoff worked – with relatively little daylight and a consuming quantity of paint-stained work filling the room. Beginning with the face, a detailed and exacting description of Lessore’s closed expression, Kossoff went on to fill the paper support in a welter of fluent lines.

The great size of the work’s paper support is notable. Kossoff would pin the paper to his drawing board and the small tack marks are visible at the upper left of this work. A work was always completed in a single sitting and, over the course of several sittings, the final work became progressively more apparent. Unsatisfactory earlier drawings were sometimes rubbed out and turned upside down, allowing the artist to reuse the paper and retain an underlying texture to the drawing. This work was evidently made in a later, more advanced stage of the sitting process, as Kossoff chose to exhibit it with three other drawings titled Young Man Seated in his 1961 solo display at the Beaux Arts Gallery. Kossoff later used these drawings to complete his large oil painting Man in a Wheelchair (1961, Tate Collection).