The artist, the mafia and the Italian career: is heist mystery about to be solved? | Painting

Even immediately after he located fame as one particular of the most critical 20th-century British artists, Leon Kossoff hardly ever acquired around the distress of getting rid of 14 paintings and six drawings in an unsolved theft.

A considerably-loved portrait of his mom was among photos that were stolen from a lorry transporting them from London to Italy in 1972, with some speculating that the mafia was liable. Until eventually his loss of life two years back, he was obsessed with remaining reunited with them just one day, but he under no circumstances observed them again.

Now art historians hope that the inclusion of individuals works in a forthcoming big publication will jog people’s recollections and at last guide to their recovery.

The images of the missing works will aspect in a definitive examine, Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, to be released in September.

It is edited by Andrea Rose, former director of visible arts at the British Council, who curated Kossoff’s exhibition at the 1995 Venice Biennale, when he represented Britain. She was also a shut mate of the artist, an intensely non-public guy who died in 2019, aged 92.

She told the Observer: “He was massively upset by the theft.”

Nude on a Red Bed, Winter 1971, a portrait of the artist’s spouse, Peggy, was one particular of the stolen functions. It will look in Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings by Andrea Rose. Photograph: © Leon Kossoff Estate

Kossoff, the son of a baker who grew up in east London, was amid figurative painters this sort of as Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach who grew to become part of the Faculty of London. Impressed by the outdated masters, he captured city life in expressionist paintings, with swathes of thick impasto paint and a sombre palette. He once said: “London, like the paint I use, would seem to be in my bloodstream.”

His subjects integrated postwar bomb and design web sites, crowded swimming pools and portraits of household and pals.

In spite of important exhibitions at the Tate and the Nationwide Gallery in London, as nicely as intercontinental demonstrates, he under no circumstances forgot the stolen performs produced when he was developing himself. Quite a few were being vital paintings and had been shown at his solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, right before being sent to his to start with solo exhibition in Italy, at Galleria del Girasole in Udine, in August 1972.

The lorry obtained as far as Rome – only to disappear just after it had been still left overnight in a automobile park, with the driver remaining in a nearby mattress and breakfast.

Woman Seated in an Armchair 1965, is the stolen portrait of the artist’s mother
Girl Seated in an Armchair 1965, is the stolen portrait of the artist’s mother. It will surface in Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings by Andrea Rose. Photograph: © Leon Kossoff Estate

Rose claimed: “The subsequent early morning, the truck had vanished, and was later on found 17 miles away … The locks on the again door had been smashed, and all of the cardboard circumstances had been opened. All of Kossoff’s paintings and drawings experienced been stolen. There were being a couple other products in the truck, between them a bronze sculpture and a 16th-century painting. None of these experienced been eradicated.”

She added: “There has been some speculation about what may have happened to the paintings, involving the Italian mafia in London, but none of this is provable. At the time of the theft, Kossoff was a rising star of the British portray globe, but his is effective experienced not been shown in Italy before and he thus was not a properly-regarded name in Italy.”

The paintings would have been significantly significant, partly mainly because Kossoff was working with guide paint at the time. It would have taken two guys to carry them. A further truck have to have been involved.

Not one particular of the functions has been observed since, despite investigations by the law enforcement and insurers.

Aside from the portrait of his mother, Lady Seated in an Armchair, which was painted in 1965, the other stolen performs involve Nude on a Pink Mattress, Wintertime 1970-71, portion of a collection of paintings of his spouse Peggy – described by Rose as an “unsentimental but quite affectionate” image.

Portrait of David, Summer 1970, a portrait of the artist’s son, was also stolen.
Portrait of David, Summer season 1970, depicting the artist’s son, was also stolen. It will appear in Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings by Andrea Rose. Photograph: © Leon Kossoff Estate

Also lacking is his Portrait of David, Summertime 1970, a tender depiction of his son, who was a teenager then. David claimed of his father yesterday: “The mysterious disappearance of these paintings and drawings – in particular the substantial painting of his mother, which he imagined was between his most effective functions – disturbed him through his everyday living.”

The Italian exhibition experienced been organised by Lou Klepac, who went on to come to be curator and deputy director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. He continues to be puzzled by the theft as Kossoff was not known in Italy and, even in Britain, his works improved fingers then for only a several hundred lbs .. Now they fetch seven figures.

He reported: “Today, if you despatched Kossoff paintings [somewhere], you would require an armed guard. Then, Leon’s work was not common with any person.”

He miracles no matter whether the thieves, most likely linked to the mafia, imagined the truck had valuable merchandise, only to be let down.

Most of the stolen performs had been photographed before they disappeared, enabling them to be reproduced in the catalogue raisonné, which will be printed by Fashionable Artwork Press on 30 September.

The publication coincides with a main retrospective exhibition at Annely Juda Fantastic Art, London, which will vacation to New York and Los Angeles in early 2022.

Mary E. Alvarez

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