Robert Brooks Kitaj (1932-2007) was an American artist based in Britain for the larger part of his career. The artist championed figuration in the wake of Expressionism and is seen as instrumental to the revival of figurative art in Britain in the 1980’s. He was a close friend of prestigious twentieth-century British artists such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, coining the term “London School” for this group of upcoming painters.
Kitaj was a highly controversial artist. Although he was recognised as an excellent draughtsman, the erudition and perceived self-aggrandisement of his œuvre provoked furious opposition. Kitaj’s work featured a sometimes overwhelming array of references to writers, artists and philosophers. As an artist of Jewish origin, he became increasingly concerned with what he called “the Jewish question”, writing two “Diasporist Manifestoes” positing that the unique heritage of Jewish cultural genius resulted from the marginalisation of the Jewish people.
In 1994, Kitaj was invited to prepare a retrospective exhibition at Tate Gallery London, which was supposed to be the crowning achievement of his career. However, the exhibition received such virulent criticism that the artist returned to the United States, where he remained until his death. Although he was undoubtedly a major figure on the art scene, Kitaj was the subject of both fervent admiration and fierce condemnation.