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

Even right after he identified fame as a single of the most vital 20th-century British artists, Leon Kossoff by no means acquired about the distress of shedding 14 paintings and six drawings in an unsolved theft.

A much-loved portrait of his mom was between shots that ended up stolen from a lorry transporting them from London to Italy in 1972, with some speculating that the mafia was responsible. Until finally his demise two years ago, he was obsessed with staying reunited with them one day, but he never noticed them yet again.

Now art historians hope that the inclusion of individuals will work in a forthcoming major publication will jog people’s memories and finally direct to their restoration.

The photographs of the misplaced operates will element in a definitive examine, Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, to be posted in September.

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

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

Nude on a Red Bed, Winter 1971, a portrait of the artist’s wife, Peggy, was one of the stolen works
Nude on a Red Mattress, Wintertime 1971, a portrait of the artist’s spouse, Peggy, was one of the stolen works. It will show up 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 among figurative painters these types of as Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach who grew to become element of the University of London. Influenced by the outdated masters, he captured urban life in expressionist paintings, with swathes of thick impasto paint and a sombre palette. He once reported: “London, like the paint I use, appears to be to be in my bloodstream.”

His topics incorporated postwar bomb and building sites, crowded swimming pools and portraits of loved ones and friends.

Despite main exhibitions at the Tate and the National Gallery in London, as effectively as global reveals, he by no means forgot the stolen will work designed when he was developing himself. Several ended up vital paintings and had been demonstrated at his solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, just before remaining despatched to his first solo exhibition in Italy, at Galleria del Girasole in Udine, in August 1972.

The lorry got as significantly as Rome – only to disappear soon after it had been left right away in a car or truck park, with the driver staying in a close by mattress and breakfast.

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

Rose mentioned: “The next early morning, the truck experienced vanished, and was later on observed 17 miles away … The locks on the back doorway had been smashed, and all of the cardboard circumstances had been opened. All of Kossoff’s paintings and drawings experienced been stolen. There ended up a several other merchandise in the truck, among them a bronze sculpture and a 16th-century portray. None of these had been taken out.”

She included: “There has been some speculation about what could possibly 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 soaring star of the British painting planet, but his operates had not been shown in Italy just before and he consequently was not a well-recognised title in Italy.”

The paintings would have been specifically weighty, partly since Kossoff was utilizing guide paint at the time. It would have taken two men to have them. An additional truck will have to have been associated.

Not a single of the will work has been found considering the fact that, in spite of investigations by the law enforcement and insurers.

Aside from the portrait of his mother, Girl Seated in an Armchair, which was painted in 1965, the other stolen functions incorporate Nude on a Pink Mattress, Wintertime 1970-71, section of a sequence of paintings of his wife Peggy – explained by Rose as an “unsentimental but really affectionate” graphic.

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 surface in Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings by Andrea Rose. Photograph: © Leon Kossoff Estate

Also lacking is his Portrait of David, Summer 1970, a tender depiction of his son, who was a teenager then. David mentioned of his father yesterday: “The mysterious disappearance of these paintings and drawings – in certain the large painting of his mom, which he assumed was among his very best is effective – disturbed him throughout his lifestyle.”

The Italian exhibition had been organised by Lou Klepac, who went on to grow to be curator and deputy director of the Artwork Gallery of Western Australia. He remains puzzled by the theft as Kossoff was not known in Italy and, even in Britain, his works adjusted fingers then for only a several hundred lbs .. Now they fetch 7 figures.

He reported: “Today, if you sent Kossoff paintings [somewhere], you would have to have an armed guard. Then, Leon’s get the job done was not well-known with any person.”

He wonders no matter whether the burglars, probably joined to the mafia, considered the truck had useful goods, only to be upset.

Most of the stolen operates experienced been photographed right before they disappeared, enabling them to be reproduced in the catalogue raisonné, which will be published by Modern Artwork Push on 30 September.

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