R.B. Kitaj American, 1932-2007




Known for his expressive and figurative paintings, R. B. Kitaj is an American artist who spent much of his life in London and exerted a significant influence on the development of British Pop Art and the School of London. His figurative paintings often feature bright colors and expressive use of lines, while constantly making references to art history, literature, political history, and his Jewish identity.


Born Ronald Brooks Kitaj in Chagrin Falls, Ohio to a Hungarian and Russian-Jewish family, Kitaj spent his early years as a seaman and two years serving in the U.S. Army in France and Germany in the 1950s before he settled down in London. He soon devoted his time to study at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford and later Royal College of Art in London, where he made a life-long friendship with David Hockney.


In the 1960s, Kitaj staged exhibitions of his paintings and taught at various art schools. In 1976, he curated an exhibition for the Arts Council, titled “The Human Clay” and featuring works by 48 London artists that were mostly figurative paintings. In his catalogue essay, Kitaj coined the “School of London” and included painters such as Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and himself.


He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1991, the first American to join the Academy since John Singer Sargent, and received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale in 1995.