Kitaj, R. B.

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R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007) was a Painter, printmaker in Los Angeles, Calif.

From the description of R.B. Kitaj papers, 1960-2001. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81487379

R.B. Kitaj was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 29, 1932. He studied at the Cooper Union Institute for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford, and the Royal College of Art in London. In February 1963, Kitaj had his first professional exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. in London. He is one of only three American painters ever elected to the Royal Academy of Arts. Kitaj currently lives and works in Los Angeles. His work is in the permanent collections of fifty-five museums throughout the world.

From the description of Papers, 1950-2006 bulk 1975-2004. (University of California, Los Angeles). WorldCat record id: 76179464


R.B. Kitaj was born Ronald Brooks, in Cleveland Ohio, on October 29, 1932 to Jeanne Brooks and Sigmund Benway. His parents divorced when he was two years old and the he had no further contact with his father who died in Los Angeles, California in the late 1940s. Jeanne Brooks supported herself and young Kitaj by working as a secretary at a steel mill. Kitaj's first art training came in the form of children's art school classes at the Cleveland Museum where he spent his Saturdays, while his mother worked. Ronald grew up in an agnostic, liberal home influenced by his mother's circle of friends, some of whom had fled the rise of Nazism in Europe. In 1941, Jeanne married Viennese refugee and research chemist, Walter Kitaj. Ronald adopted his stepfather's surname. In 1942, the family moved to Troy, New York where Kitaj attended Troy High School and developed lifelong friendships with Jim Whiton, John and David Ward and others. At the end of the World War II, Walter Kitaj's mother Helene came to live with the family in New York. Helene had fled Vienna in the 1930s and survived the Holocaust by taking refuge in Sweden while many of her family members, including two sisters, had been killed. Helene's presence had a strong impact on young Kitaj and also helped to form a distinct part of his Jewish identity. In one of his early works, The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg (1960) Kitaj depicts Helene along with his maternal grandmother, Rose Brooks.

In 1949, at the age of 17, Kitaj left Troy for the first of many voyages as a merchant seaman. Between jobs, Kitaj attended art school at the Cooper Union where he studied under the artist Sydney Delevante. In 1951, Kitaj made his first trip to Europe. Encouraged by his grandmother Helene, Kitaj visited Austria and enrolled in the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna. While studying in Vienna, Kitaj met his first wife, and fellow American, Elsi Roessler. They were married in 1953 in New York's oldest Methodist chapel. That winter, the newly-wed couple made a first of many visits to San Feliu de Guíxols in Catalonia, Spain. Years later, Kitaj bought a house in San Feliu where he spent several summers along the Catalan coast, painting and meeting with his good friend Josep Vicente Roma.

In 1956, Kitaj was conscripted to the U.S. Army serving first at Darmstadt, Germany, then as an illustrator in Fontainebleau, France. After completing his military service, Kitaj, inspired by the many American artists and writers who had expatriated to London before him, enrolled in the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford with support from the G.I. Bill. Kitaj sold his first painting from this period to philosopher friend John Searle. In 1959, his first son Lem Kitaj (screenwriter Lem Dobbs) was born. From 1959 to 1961 Kitaj attended the Royal College of Art (RCA) where he studied under Carel Weight, Roger de Grey, and David Sylvester. Kitaj befriended several classmates Adrian Berg, Peter Phillips, Allen Jones and David Hockney, who became a lifelong friend. Key paintings of the RCA years include: The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg (1960), Kennst du das Land? (1962), and Reflections on Violence (1962). Kitaj's first solo exhibition, Pictures with Commentary, Pictures without Commentary was held at the Marlborough Gallery in 1963. In 1964, Kitaj and Elsi adopted a daughter, Dominie Kitaj.

Between 1962 and 1969, Kitaj taught at Ealing Art College, Camberwell College of Arts, The Slade School of Fine Art, and University of California, Berkeley. In 1969, Kitaj's first wife Elsi committed suicide. Kitaj took his family to Saskatchewan, Canada to recover while he taught at the Emma Lake Workshops. In 1970, they returned to California where he taught for a year at UCLA. While living in Los Angeles Kitaj befriended the photographer Lee Friedlander and first met fellow artist, Sandra Fisher. Upon returning to London, Kitaj and Sandra Fisher met again at the opening of the Neal Street Restaurant in 1971. This chance encounter marked the beginning of their relationship of more than twenty years.

In 1975, Kitaj was asked by the Arts Council of Great Britain to curate an exhibition he named, "The Human Clay." The exhibition took place at the Hayward Gallery. In the introductory text of the catalogue Kitaj coined the term "School of London" to describe the group of artists, that he was a part of, working in London at the time, with a focus on drawing from and representing the human form. Some key paintings during this time include: The Arabist (1975-76), The Orientalist (1975-1976), The Hispanicist (1977-1978), Smyrnka Greek (1976-77), From London (James Joll and John Golding) (1975-76), The Neo-cubist (1976 -87) as well as numerous figurative pastel and charcoal drawings.

In 1981, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden held the first retrospective of Kitaj's work. In that same year, Kitaj moved to Paris for a year with Sandra Fisher to work. In Paris he developed a close friendship with Avigdor Arikha and his wife Anne Atik. Upon returning to London Kitaj and Sandra Fisher were married by Rabbi Abraham Levy at London's oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks. Several important friends were in attendance including David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, and Leon Kossoff. Max Kitaj was born a year later in 1984. During this time, his work began to focus on the Holocaust, "The Jewish Question" and Kitaj's exploration of Jewish identity. Key works on these themes include, The Jew, Etc. (1976-1979), The Jewish School (Drawing a Golem) (1980), Self-Portrait as a Woman (1984), Germania (The Tunnel) (1985), and The Jewish Rider (1984-1985). In 1989, Thames Hudson published Kitaj's first book, "First Diasporist Manifesto." In the same year that his "First Diasporist Manifesto" was released, Kitaj suffered a heart attack.

Kitaj was asked by the Tate Gallery to do a major retrospective of his work just as his painting life had begun to slow down. Kitaj's retrospective was scheduled to tour two other museums, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In 1994, when the exhibition premiered it was extremely well attended, but ultimately disparaged by the critics. Kitaj believed that British anti-Semitism fueled the negative reviews. After the exhibition closed at the Tate, Kitaj's wife Sandra Fisher died suddenly of brain aneurysm. Although Kitaj received an outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike, he vowed never to paint again, claiming both publically that the stress of the Tate show had caused Sandra's death. He came to refer to this period as his "Tate War," a battle that fueled his work in the following years. Regardless of the major set-back this time posed for Kitaj, he was still well received by the public. In 1996 he received the Wollaston Award for the best painting in the Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts for his work "The Critic Kills." Kitaj also received other prestigious awards before leaving England for good in 1997, The Golden Lion for Painting (1995) and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres presented to him by Jacques Chirac (1996).

When Kitaj returned to the United States with his son Max, he bought a house in Westwood near UCLA, where he built a yellow studio. In 2001, Kitaj accepted the National Gallery of London's invitation to mount an exhibition of his work, Kitaj: In the Aura of Cezanne and Other Masters, his largest single exhibition. In Los Angeles, Kitaj focused on the development of what he called his "old-age style" which continued to reflect a variety of interests, including his life-long obsession with Cezanne, "The Jewish Question", and the untimely death of his wife Sandra Fisher. Some important works from this time include two series; the Los Angeles Pictures and Little Pictures . In 2007, Yale University Press published Kitaj's "Second Diasporist Manifesto." In October of 2007, Kitaj died in his home just weeks before his 75th birthday. Kitaj's last exhibition, "R.B. Kitaj: Little Pictures" was held in 2008 at the Marlborough Gallery, New York.


Portrait of a Jewish Artist: R.B. Kitaj in Text and Image, January - April 2008 . Held in conjunction with the Skirball Cultural Center's R.B. Kitaj: Passion and Memory .

From the guide to the R.B. Kitaj papers, 1950-2007 (bulk 1965-2006), (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Philip Roth Papers, 1938-2001, (bulk 1960-1999) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Kitaj, R.B., 1932- : [miscellaneous ephemeral material] Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
referencedIn Modern Art Department Art and Technology records, 1967-1971, 1967-2007 Los Angeles County Museum of Art Balch Art Research Library
creatorOf KITAJ, RONALD B. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
creatorOf R.B. Kitaj papers, 1950-2007 (bulk 1965-2006) University of California, Los Angeles. Library Special Collections.
creatorOf Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005. House book [manuscript] : for Ron and Sandy, with my love / Bob. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Kitaj, R.B. : Biographical file. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
creatorOf Joe Shannon papers Archives of American Art
referencedIn Felver, Christopher, 1946-. Chris Felver photographs of 20th century American poets, 1981-2003. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Kitaj, R. B. R.B. Kitaj papers, 1960-2001. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
referencedIn John D. Graham papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Isabel Bishop papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Kitaj, R. B., 1932-2007. [R. B. Kitaj] : artist file John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Library, Ringling Museum Library
referencedIn Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Art and Technology Program. Modern Art Department, Art and Technology records, 1967-1971. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA
referencedIn Sidney Delevante papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Tuten, Frederic. Frederic Tuten collection, 1965-2003. Ohio State University Libraries
creatorOf Kitaj, R. B. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
creatorOf John D. Graham papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988. Stained glass window sections [graphic]. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Kitaj, R. B. [R.B. Kitaj : International Art & Artists File]. Libraries Australia
referencedIn Wallrich, Larry. Larry Wallrich collection, 1959-1992. Emory University. Special Collections and Archives
creatorOf Mel Ramos papers Archives of American Art
referencedIn Jasia Reichardt correspondence, 1956-1987 Getty Research Institute
referencedIn Marlborough-Gerson Gallery. Kitaj, R. B., 1932-2007 : artist file. The Barnes Foundation, Barnes Foundation Libraries and Special Collections
referencedIn Isabel Bishop papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Reichardt, Jasia. Jasia Reichardt correspondence, ca. 1956-87. Getty Research Institute
creatorOf Kitaj, R. B. Papers, 1950-2006 bulk 1975-2004. University of California, Los Angeles
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bishop, Isabel, 1902-1988. person
associatedWith Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005. person
associatedWith Delevante, Sidney, 1894- person
associatedWith Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988. person
associatedWith Felver, Christopher, 1946- person
associatedWith Graham, John, 1881-1961. person
associatedWith Graham, John, 1887-1961. person
associatedWith John Graham person
associatedWith Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Art and Technology Program. corporateBody
associatedWith Los Angeles County Museum of Art Modern Art Department. corporateBody
associatedWith Ramos, Mel, 1935- person
associatedWith Reichardt, Jasia person
associatedWith Reichardt, Jasia. person
correspondedWith Roth, Philip. person
associatedWith Shannon, Joe. person
associatedWith The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Tuten, Frederic. person
associatedWith Wallrich, Larry. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Figurative art


Birth 1932-10-29

Death 2007-10-21





Ark ID: w6sb4j0j

SNAC ID: 64976329