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R.B. Kitaj: Obsessions | Analyst for Our Time

[ Exhibition )

Screenprint collage by R.B. Kitaj in vertical stripes containing several faces, figures and bright colours.

R. B. Kitaj, For Fear, from ‘Mahler Becomes Politics, Beisbol’, 1964-67, 9 colour screenprint, photo-screenprint on paper, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund) © R B Kitaj

A celebration of the work of R.B. Kitaj (1932–2007), a significant abstract painter of the postwar period.

Featuring over 100 paintings, sketches and prints, ‘Analyst for Our Time’ presented an overview of Kitaj’s extensive oeuvre from the 1960s to his suicide in 2007. The simultaneous exhibition at the Jewish Museum London, subtitled ‘The Art of Identity’, featured around 20 works and focused on how Kitaj explored and expressed his ‘Jewishness’.

The presentation of this dual-venue exhibition enabled the exploration of different facets of Kitaj’s identity and returned the American-born Kitaj to the UK for the first time since his controversial Tate show in 1994. This great retrospective triggered a flood of negative reviews, which Kitaj termed the “Tate War”. This, combined with the sudden death of his second wife, painter Sandra Fisher, prompted him to abruptly leave London for Los Angeles in 1997.

Born as Ronald Brooks in Cleveland, Ohio, Kitaj grew up in the left-wing intellectual home of his immigrant parents. Following a spell as a merchant seaman, Kitaj’s formal art schooling began the 1950s in New York and subsequently Vienna, Oxford and London. It was in London that he met his contemporary David Hockney, who remained a close friend throughout his life.

During the 1960s, Kitaj and fellow artists Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud pioneered a new, figurative art which defied the trend in abstraction and conceptualism. Known collectively as the ‘School of London’, most of them were cultural ‘outsiders’ who remained fiercely loyal to the human figure. Kitaj specifically positioned himself as a Jewish artist and maintained this as a pivotal dimension and motif in his “diasporic” art and writing.

What the press said

This is powerful stuff, full of the colour and the symbolism that were his trademarks.

Adrian Hamilton, The Independent

It offers fascinating insights into the complex, emotional and culturally hungry painter…These two well-selected shows offer a much-needed opportunity to reassess him, and realise what an intense artist we have lost.

Richard Cork, The Independent

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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