Portrait of N M Seedo
Initially trained at St Martin’s School of Art, Kossoff also attended evening classes at Borough Polytechnic (1950–52) under David Bomberg with Frank Auerbach. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1956. Kossoff received critical acclaim during the 1960s following his first exhibited work in 1956; the Arts Council and Tate both acquired his work by 1963, when he was elected a London Group member, exhibiting for the third and final time with the Group in 1964. Ben Uri featured his work at this time in a group show with Sandra Blow, Henry Inlander, Helena Markson and Archibald Zeigler, held in spring 1968.
Kossoff has received recognition from the most notable critics of the day, including John Berger, who was impressed early on by the artist’s ‘shockingly thick’ pigment and his ‘equally heavily worked and very black’ drawings, observing that his ‘brooding hunched up figures […] fit as tensely in their panels as mediaeval figures in their niches’.
Portrait of N. M. Seedo bears a striking resemblance to Seated Woman, a 1957 oil painting, and a charcoal and conté drawing of the same title exhibited in Kossoff’s second and third London Group exhibitions. Heavily delineated with fluent thick black marks and depicted in three-quarters profile, N. M. Seedo sits with her hands together, and eyes downcast. The tubular arm-rest that portions off the bottom left corner is a compositional device that recurs in later works.
These three associated works are portraits of émigré Sonia Husid (1906–1985), known by her nom de plume N. M. Seedo. Possibly a distant relative of Kossoff’s, she was an important model for the artist in this period. Seedo refers to their friendship in her semi-autobiographical account, In the Beginning was Fear (1964), which also movingly describes her experiences of pogroms, fear and loss in Romania.
Seedo was also known in her own right in Britain as a Yiddishist. Born in Bessarabia and educated in Vienna, she was a member of the socialist Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair and the (then illegal) Romanian Communist Party before she settled in England in 1930. Seedo married fellow immigrant and Yiddish writer Y. I. Lisky (originally Yehuda Itamar Fuchs, official name Summer Fuchs) in London in 1935; they subsequently divorced and remarried in 1970. In the empathic work, Portrait of N. M. Seedo, Kossoff clearly conveys her strength through suffering.
This portrait is one of three works by Kossoff in the Ben Uri collection.