Leon Kossoff is now rightly revered as one of Britain’s greatest living figurative artists. Whilst one must be careful not to overplay his part in the Borough Polytechnic story, he has acknowledged how important Bomberg was to him as a teacher. It was Bomberg’s commitment to freedom of expression that enabled the younger artist to flourish. As Kossoff has acknowledged, Bomberg gave him license to explore and fulfil his own abilities.
Kossoff attended St Martin’s College where he found the rigorously academic approach was hindering rather than aiding his development. Through Frank Auerbach, a fellow student at St Martin’s, Kossoff was introduced to Bomberg and Borough Polytechnic. He described attending the classes as ‘like coming home.’ Kossoff noted that ‘What David did for me, which was far more important than any technique he could have taught me, was he made me feel I could do it. I came to him with no belief in myself whatsoever and he treated my work with respect.’ Kossoff’s time with Bomberg was relatively short, he was never a member of any of the formal groups and his style was at odds with many of his peers at the Polytechnic. He also avoided close connection with Bomberg’s legacy at a time when such an association proved rather hazardous the reputations of other ex-students. Yet a connection is there, and it is interesting to examine the interaction between two immensely gifted and influential artists.