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Leon Kossoff At Arnold Circus

December 8, 2013
by the gentle author

Arnold Circus, Saturday Afternoon 2012 by Leon Kossoff

Limited Edition of 300 prints produced for The Friends of Arnold Circus

British expressionist, Leon Kossoff, grew up on Arnold Circus in the thirties and, over the last five years, he has returned to create a magnificent series of drawings – reconciling himself to the place in which his journey as an artist began.

On one side of Arnold Circus is Rochelle School, where Leon was educated while, in Calvert Ave, the lettering spelling out the name of Kossoff’s Bakery, the family business, can still be distinguished upon the fascia. And in between, on the corner of Club Row, was the spot where the fascists handed out their propaganda leaflets during his childhood.

In the fifties, Leon Kossoff began painting Christ Church, Spitalfields, returning to the subject over and over again, as it became an increasingly-emotionalised and highly-wrought motif in his particular vein of expressionism, wrestling an enduring image of transcendence from the fleeting chaos of existence.

An intensely private man, at eighty-six years old Leon Kossoff still carries strong feelings towards the East End. He is unsentimental about the poverty and violence that he witnessed in his youth, yet fiercely protective about the architectural fabric of the territory. A few years ago, I spent a quiet afternoon sitting with him and Joan Rose, who was his childhood contemporary at Arnold Circus. As she spoke, fondly evoking the world of the Boundary Estate before the war, Leon became emotional to rediscover lost memories of his own through her reminiscence. He was amazed to hear Joan’s stories of a joyful childhood in a place that was overshadowed by loss and melancholy in his perception.

The Arnold Circus works divide into two series, before and after the renovation of the bandstand that happened in 2010. “The school was there, where I used to go, they were very kind to me, they gave me a little space in the shed where I could keep my drawing board and charcoal. It’s still there,” he explained. Initially wary to discover that the park was to be restored, Leon’s second series of drawings express something of his delight to witness his childhood landscape brought back to life and cherished once more. “Everyone seemed happy, London seemed transformed,” he admitted in surprise, speaking of drawing at Arnold Circus in the summer of of 2012.

How many of us have the privilege to return to our childhood home and find it intact, as Joan Rose and Leon Kossoff did at Arnold Circus? Now Leon’s recent drawings have been included in a major retrospective exhibition of his London Landscapes spanning half a century and, when the pupils from Virginia Rd School in Arnold Circus were taken to see it, they were inspired to make their own drawings recording their personal landscapes, which are reproduced below.

As a gesture of support to The Friends of Arnold Circus, who were responsible for the renewal of the bandstand and the park, Leon Kossoff has produced a limited edition digital print of three hundred copies of one of his Arnold Circus pictures from the summer of 2012. It is an intensely-worked drawing that manifests the homecoming of a great artist to the East End.

Arnold Circus 2008-10 by Leon Kossoff (charcoal and pastel on paper 65.3 x 50 cm) Copyright The Artist, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Arnold Circus 2008-10 by Leon Kossoff (charcoal and pastel on paper, 64.7 x 54.7 cm) Copyright The Artist, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Arnold Circus 2008-10 by Leon Kossoff (charcoal and pastel on paper, 59 x 50 cm) Copyright The Artist, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Arnold Circus, Before Rain 2012 by Leon Kossoff (charcoal and pastel on paper, 60.5 x 50 cm) Copyright The Artist, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Pupils fron Virginia Rd Primary School at Arnold Circus visited Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes exhibition at Annely Juda Fine Art last summer

The children made their own drawings of Arnold Circus inspired by Leon Kossoff’s work

Mussammoth Siddiqa Khatun (Anjuna)

Mohamed Abdul Muhith Bilal

Priam Ahmed

Nada Mohamed

Gulam Mubeen

Mohamed Ikramul Haque

Sheikh Ehiya Miah

Mya Zahra Chowdury

Mahin Ali Rabbi

Rita Begum

Shah Hafiz Tamjid

Mohamed Yasir Chowdhury

Shanzida Haque

Jannath Inaya Ahmed

Virginia Rd School pupils at the print launch at Leila’s Shop last week

Joan Rose holds court – a contemporary of Leon Kossoff, Joan grew up at Arnold Circus where her grandfather Albert Raymond opened the grocers – now Leila’s Shop – at 17 Calvert Ave in 1900

Click here to get a copy of Leon Kossoff’s Arnold Circus print for £30


Leon Kossoff’s drawings © The Artist, courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art

Photographs of Virginia Rd pupils at the gallery copyright © Alice Herrick

Photographs of the Print Launch copyright © Patricia Niven


Leon Kossoff’s, London Landscapes exhibition is currently at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 West 26th St, New York City until 21st December and will be shown at L.A.Louver, 49 North Venice Boulvard, Venice, Los Angeles, from 23rd January until 1st March.

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Cherub permalink
    December 8, 2013

    The children’s drawings are beautiful.

  2. Claudia Fisk permalink
    December 8, 2013

    I love this blog but this post and the children’s drawings is just fantastic. They are all so good with great movement and confident sweeps.
    Thank you so much

  3. Vicky permalink
    December 8, 2013

    Leon’s drawings are fabulous, full of energy and life, I love them. But I’m truly amazed at the drawings produced by the primary children of Virginia Rd School. Their observation, their sense of composition and perspective, is astonishing for their age. They must have an excellent teacher. Leon Kossof is truly inspirational.

  4. December 8, 2013

    Lovely Artworks – even those by the Kids!

  5. December 8, 2013

    Leon’s drawings are wonderfully wild, and those of the kids are just magnificent, totally inspired! Valerie

  6. jeannette permalink
    December 9, 2013

    thank you for the children’s drawings and their beautiful names.

  7. Barbara permalink
    December 10, 2013

    My print arrived this morning !Fantastic !

  8. December 13, 2013

    Thankyou for putting the children’s drawings with Leon’s. They are fabulous together.

  9. November 27, 2014

    If Leon himself ever reads these comments perhas he may remember me as a contemporary of his brother Hymie ?

    I lived in Boreham Street, some 50 yards away from a very small Kossoff shop, and I have fond memories of visiting the Kossoff home in Hackney whilst on wartime leave.

    Best regards


  10. Siddiqa Anjuma permalink
    March 1, 2016

    I’m one of the children from here and I find it so interesting to look back on these, I’m actually studying art now and I love comparing my drawings from then to the ones I do now. Going to see the gallery actually helped me, as it gave me more experience, something which is highly recommended by my teachers. I showed the pictures to my friends and, to be honest we started laughing because we will start GCSE’s soon and we used to be so stressed about SAT’s back then. We have all changed a lot and it’s funny looking back at our little kid selves compared to our teenage selves. Also thanks for the compliments from people who have said so, its really nice of you.

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