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Kitaj Prints

Kitaj Prints

Kitaj Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné will be published on Monday by the British Museum Press.

This beautifully illustrated new book explores the range of graphic works of R.B. Kitaj, one of the most thought-provoking and controversial artists of the second half of the twentieth century.

American-born artist R.B. Kitaj’s (1932–2007) distinctive, highly personal and often challenging works drew on many influences ranging from literature to politics and film. The British Museum holds a near complete set of the artist’s proofs, the best representation of the artist’s graphic works in the UK.

Kitaj worked in England for almost forty years – until 1994 when his ill-fated retrospective exhibition at the Tate was savaged by the critics. Hurt by the hostile reception of his works in his adopted homeland and grieving for the sudden death of his young wife, the painter Sandra Fisher, Kitaj left England for good, returning to America, declaring, ‘London is dead to me now’. It was in London that he developed his early style and influenced many of his close circle of friends, including David Hockney, who he met at the RCA, and Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach. This led him to coin the term ‘School of London’, later associated with this group of purely figurative artists.

This exciting and beautifully produced book amounts to the definitive collection of the artist’s graphic works, and is the first to examine in detail Kitaj’s prints for almost twenty years, featuring 300 pieces.

A forthcoming exhibition at the British Museum from 30 May to 1 September 2013, Recent Acquisitions: Arcimboldo to Kitaj will showcase many of Kitaj’s striking graphic works, which are featured in the catalogue.

Ahead of publication, author Jennifer Ramkalawon, curator of prints and drawings, chooses her favourite pieces.

Boys and Girls

Boys and Girls! (detail), 1964. Colour screenprint.

In Kitaj’s 1965 New York exhibition catalogue he placed this print with the Mahler group and stated that it was associated with ‘the 2nd movement of the 2nd symphony. At the bottom right is Werner Krauss playing ht lead in the anti-Semitic movie Jud-Suess. The central photo was taken from a post-war German nudist mag’.

La Luca

La Luca del Pueblo Español por su Libertad, 1969 – 70. From the series, In Our Time: Covers for a Small Library After the Life for the Most Part, 1969-70. Colour screenprint, photoscreenprint. 770 x 575 mm.

A large reproduction of the cover of La Luca del Pueblo Español por su Libertad, compiled by A. Ramos Oliveira (The Press Department of the Spanish Embassy, London 1937). First published 1937.

The Red Dancer of Moscow

The Red Dancer of Moscow, 1975. Colour screenprint, photoscreenprint, 1013 x 750 mm.

Here Kitaj reuses the figure of the woman in the print Cutie, 1974 (cat. 180) along with the head of the sailor from the print Cap’n A.B. Dick, 1975 (cat. 201).

Self-portrait (after Mattteo)

Self-portrait (After Matteo), (detail), 1983. Soft-ground etching.

This portrait appears to be based on a figure from Massacre of the Innocents, 1482, a painting by Matteo di Giovanni (c. 1452 – 95; Sant’ Agostino, Siena). The man directly beneath Herod’s right hand wears a black cap and stares out of the painting with a direct gaze, which Kitaj has adopted for his self-portrait. This is the reverse image of the charcoal drawing on green paper, Self-portrait (After Matteo), 1982 (estate of the artist).

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum, extracted from the book.

Kitaj Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné by Jennifer Ramkalawon is published by the British Museum Press, and is available in hardback at £40. For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

Category: History

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