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The Architects, R. B. Kitaj

Painting by R. B. Kitaj depicting a red room with geometric shapes in an abstract suggestion of an interior. A man wearing a blue jcaket and glasses sits at a table and a woman stands next to him. A small boy and girl stand in the background

R.B. Kitaj, The Architects (1981), Oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government from the estate of MJ Long / Wilson and allocated to Pallant House Gallery, 2021) © Estate of R.B Kitaj

At a glance

Artist: R. B. Kitaj

Date: 1981

Materials: Oil on canvas

Acquisition: Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government from the estate of MJ Long / Wilson and allocated to Pallant House Gallery (2021)

 

This family portrait of the architects MJ Long (right), Colin St John Wilson (seated) and their children, Sal in the doorway between her parents, and Harry to the far left, was painted by R. B. Kitaj from 1979. It was during this time that MJ Long was redesigning Kitaj’s studio at his terraced house in Chelsea – the setting for this group portrait. Kitaj and MJ Long’s husband Colin (known as Sandy) were impressive bibliophiles and it quickly became obvious to MJ that Kitaj’s space would have to be altered to include as many books as possible. This was achieved by the stepped bookcase that can be seen behind MJ in this portrait.

In 2010, MJ Long described sitting for Kitaj’s portrait. Although she had already been the architect of the artist’s studio and the pair had got along well, she described a change in their relationship when she became the subject of his work. He found the work frustrating, MJ often felt intimidated by the sittings, and Kitaj would often become irritable. However, when this painting was finished, which Kitaj described as a transitional work, the artist could boast a new era to his oeuvre.