Artist Leon Kossoff was born to Ukrainian-Jewish refugee parents in Islington, London, England on 10 December 1926 and raised in the East End, where his parents ran a bakery. During the Second World War he was evacuated to King’s Lynn in Norfolk, where his host family encouraged his passion for drawing, and he subsequently attended life classes at Toynbee Hall in the East End, and Saturday classes at St Martin’s School of Art. Following National Service with the Royal Fusiliers Jewish Brigade (1945–48), he studied at St Martin’s School of Art (1949–53) and the Royal College of Art (1953-56), alongside Frank Auerbach, with whom he also attended David Bomberg’s evening classes at the Borough Polytechnic (1950-52), which proved a formative experience.
After participating in the Tercentenary Exhibition of Contemporary Anglo-Jewish Artists at Ben Uri Gallery in 1956, he had five solo shows at Helen Lessore’s Beaux Art Gallery (1957-64), followed by more than 30 further solo exhibitions hosted by institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1981), the Venice Biennale (1995), Tate (1996), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2000) and the National Gallery (2007). He also participated in numerous group exhibitions including in 1976, The Human Clay, an exhibition selected by R. B. Kitaj, which brought together a loose group of figurative artists, whom he referred to as representing a 'School of London', a label subsequently much debated.
London was the focus of much of Kossoff's work, from early postwar bombed cityscapes to a series based on Christ Church, Spitalfields and scenes of intense human activity including the underground, train stations, parks and swimming pools in Dalston, Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Kilburn, Willesden and the Embankment. He also drew daily from life, often in charcoal. His final exhibition 'Leon Kossoff: A London Life', was held at Piano Nobile, London in 2019. Leon Kossoff died in London, England on 4 July 2019, aged 92. His work is represented in numerous UK collections including the Arts Council, the Ben Uri Collection, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal College of Art and Tate, and in international collections including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and MoMA. A retrospective, accompanying the publication of a catalogue raisonné of paintings, edited by Andrea Rose, was held at Annely Juda Fine Art in 2021.