Date of Degree

6-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

Emily Braun

Committee Members

Judy Sund

Mary Ann Caws

Tim Barringer

Subject Categories

Contemporary Art | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Modern Art and Architecture

Keywords

Auerbach, Kossoff, Painting, Landscape, London

Abstract

This dissertation is the first critical analysis of the parallel, seven-decade-spanning urban landscape oeuvres of British painters Frank Auerbach (b. 1931) and Leon Kossoff (b. 1926). Since the post-World War II era of widespread political, geographical, and psychological displacement, when the practice of observation-based landscape painting had all but disappeared from international advanced art, Auerbach, who came to England in 1939 as a German-Jewish child refugee from the Nazis, and Kossoff, a first-generation Londoner of Ukrainian-Jewish heritage, have obstinately pursued an art of place. As art students in London, the two simultaneously developed laborious painterly processes of accumulation and scraping based in on-site drawings of the motif in order to convey their sensory experiences of the ever-changing city: from the massive upheaval of the Reconstruction-era building sites both represented in the 1950s to the animations of the everyday streets, parks, and railway stations they depict in their subsequent, separate, locally-rooted practices. The resulting images, which hover between illusionistic form and abstract brushwork, expand the visual languages of representation and complicate the established discourses of international postwar painting by refusing any notion of a binary between abstraction and figuration.

My dissertation argues that together, Auerbach and Kossoff have not only produced an unprecedented visual portrait of postwar and contemporary London, but also that these two urban, Jewish artists of non-British background have each revitalized the deeply “British” legacy of landscape depiction by expanding the genre’s range of subject matters, modes of representation, and the processes by which landscape paintings are made and viewed. Building on the phenomenological approach to the artists’ works established by David Sylvester, my chapters merge close visual analysis with social and cultural history to offer original interpretations of Auerbach’s and Kossoff’s images and sequences. My project proposes that the artists’ dual body of London landscapes challenges the naturalist and nationalist assumptions of the landscape tradition, evinces the unique and understudied contributions of postwar British painting, and reveals the ongoing significance of place as a subject of artistic attention in the rapidly shifting modern and contemporary world.

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