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Finding Aid for the R.B. Kitaj papers, 1950-2007 (bulk 1965-2006)
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: R.B. Kitaj papers
    Date (inclusive): 1950-2007 (bulk 1965-2006)
    Collection number: 1741
    Creator: Kitaj, R.B.
    Extent: 160 boxes (80 linear ft.) 85 oversized boxes
    Abstract: R.B. Kitaj was an influential and controversial American artist who lived in London for much of his life. He is the creator of many major works including; The Ohio Gang (1964), The Autumn of Central Paris (after Walter Benjamin) 1972-3; If Not, Not (1975-76) and Cecil Court, London W.C.2. (The Refugees) (1983-4). Throughout his artistic career, Kitaj drew inspiration from history, literature and his personal life. His circle of friends included philosophers, writers, poets, filmmakers, and other artists, many of whom he painted. Kitaj also received a number of honorary doctorates and awards including the Golden Lion for Painting at the XLVI Venice Biennale (1995). He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1982) and the Royal Academy of Arts (1985). He is the author of two books, The First Diasporist Manifesto (1989) and Second Diasporist Manifesto (2007). Kitaj's works are in the permanent collections of over 50 museums internationally.
    Language: Finding aid is written in English.
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of R.B. Kitaj, 2006, 2007, 2008.

    Processing Note

    Processed by Tim Holland, 2006; Norma Williamson, 2011

    Processing History

    The R.B. Kitaj Papers came to UCLA in three installments. The first installment, received in 2006. The following was the organization and arrangement of the first installment:
    • Academies
    • Assorted Writings
    • Publicity
    • Miscellaneous
    • Personal Correspondence
    • Business Correspondence
    The second installment, received in 2007, was combined with the first installment, maintaining the organization and arrangement of the 2006 installment as much as possible. Due to the nature of the third installment materials, received in 2008, some changes were made to the existing organization and arrangement.
    In addition, 4 new series were created for the third installment of material that did not belong in the existing series.
    Finally, the number order of the series was changed from alphabetical order to a mixed order primarily determined by the significance of the material.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], R.B. Kitaj papers (Collection 1741). Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 5598339 


    R.B. Kitaj was born Ronald Brooks, in Cleveland Ohio, on October 29, 1932 to Jeanne Brooks and Sigmund Benway. His parents divorced when he was two years old and the he had no further contact with his father who died in Los Angeles, California in the late 1940s. Jeanne Brooks supported herself and young Kitaj by working as a secretary at a steel mill. Kitaj's first art training came in the form of children's art school classes at the Cleveland Museum where he spent his Saturdays, while his mother worked. Ronald grew up in an agnostic, liberal home influenced by his mother's circle of friends, some of whom had fled the rise of Nazism in Europe. In 1941, Jeanne married Viennese refugee and research chemist, Walter Kitaj. Ronald adopted his stepfather's surname. In 1942, the family moved to Troy, New York where Kitaj attended Troy High School and developed lifelong friendships with Jim Whiton, John and David Ward and others. At the end of the World War II, Walter Kitaj's mother Helene came to live with the family in New York. Helene had fled Vienna in the 1930s and survived the Holocaust by taking refuge in Sweden while many of her family members, including two sisters, had been killed. Helene's presence had a strong impact on young Kitaj and also helped to form a distinct part of his Jewish identity. In one of his early works, The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg (1960) Kitaj depicts Helene along with his maternal grandmother, Rose Brooks.
    In 1949, at the age of 17, Kitaj left Troy for the first of many voyages as a merchant seaman. Between jobs, Kitaj attended art school at the Cooper Union where he studied under the artist Sydney Delevante. In 1951, Kitaj made his first trip to Europe. Encouraged by his grandmother Helene, Kitaj visited Austria and enrolled in the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna. While studying in Vienna, Kitaj met his first wife, and fellow American, Elsi Roessler. They were married in 1953 in New York's oldest Methodist chapel. That winter, the newly-wed couple made a first of many visits to San Feliu de Guíxols in Catalonia, Spain. Years later, Kitaj bought a house in San Feliu where he spent several summers along the Catalan coast, painting and meeting with his good friend Josep Vicente Roma.
    In 1956, Kitaj was conscripted to the U.S. Army serving first at Darmstadt, Germany, then as an illustrator in Fontainebleau, France. After completing his military service, Kitaj, inspired by the many American artists and writers who had expatriated to London before him, enrolled in the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford with support from the G.I. Bill. Kitaj sold his first painting from this period to philosopher friend John Searle. In 1959, his first son Lem Kitaj (screenwriter Lem Dobbs) was born. From 1959 to 1961 Kitaj attended the Royal College of Art (RCA) where he studied under Carel Weight, Roger de Grey, and David Sylvester. Kitaj befriended several classmates Adrian Berg, Peter Phillips, Allen Jones and David Hockney, who became a lifelong friend. Key paintings of the RCA years include: The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg (1960), Kennst du das Land? (1962), and Reflections on Violence (1962). Kitaj's first solo exhibition, Pictures with Commentary, Pictures without Commentary was held at the Marlborough Gallery in 1963. In 1964, Kitaj and Elsi adopted a daughter, Dominie Kitaj.
    Between 1962 and 1969, Kitaj taught at Ealing Art College, Camberwell College of Arts, The Slade School of Fine Art, and University of California, Berkeley. In 1969, Kitaj's first wife Elsi committed suicide. Kitaj took his family to Saskatchewan, Canada to recover while he taught at the Emma Lake Workshops. In 1970, they returned to California where he taught for a year at UCLA. While living in Los Angeles Kitaj befriended the photographer Lee Friedlander and first met fellow artist, Sandra Fisher. Upon returning to London, Kitaj and Sandra Fisher met again at the opening of the Neal Street Restaurant in 1971. This chance encounter marked the beginning of their relationship of more than twenty years.
    In 1975, Kitaj was asked by the Arts Council of Great Britain to curate an exhibition he named, "The Human Clay." The exhibition took place at the Hayward Gallery. In the introductory text of the catalogue Kitaj coined the term "School of London" to describe the group of artists, that he was a part of, working in London at the time, with a focus on drawing from and representing the human form. Some key paintings during this time include: The Arabist (1975-76), The Orientalist (1975-1976), The Hispanicist (1977-1978), Smyrnka Greek (1976-77), From London (James Joll and John Golding) (1975-76), The Neo-cubist (1976 -87) as well as numerous figurative pastel and charcoal drawings.
    In 1981, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden held the first retrospective of Kitaj's work. In that same year, Kitaj moved to Paris for a year with Sandra Fisher to work. In Paris he developed a close friendship with Avigdor Arikha and his wife Anne Atik. Upon returning to London Kitaj and Sandra Fisher were married by Rabbi Abraham Levy at London's oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks. Several important friends were in attendance including David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, and Leon Kossoff. Max Kitaj was born a year later in 1984. During this time, his work began to focus on the Holocaust, "The Jewish Question" and Kitaj's exploration of Jewish identity. Key works on these themes include, The Jew, Etc. (1976-1979), The Jewish School (Drawing a Golem) (1980), Self-Portrait as a Woman (1984), Germania (The Tunnel) (1985), and The Jewish Rider (1984-1985). In 1989, Thames Hudson published Kitaj's first book, "First Diasporist Manifesto." In the same year that his "First Diasporist Manifesto" was released, Kitaj suffered a heart attack.
    Kitaj was asked by the Tate Gallery to do a major retrospective of his work just as his painting life had begun to slow down. Kitaj's retrospective was scheduled to tour two other museums, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In 1994, when the exhibition premiered it was extremely well attended, but ultimately disparaged by the critics. Kitaj believed that British anti-Semitism fueled the negative reviews. After the exhibition closed at the Tate, Kitaj's wife Sandra Fisher died suddenly of brain aneurysm. Although Kitaj received an outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike, he vowed never to paint again, claiming both publically that the stress of the Tate show had caused Sandra's death. He came to refer to this period as his "Tate War," a battle that fueled his work in the following years. Regardless of the major set-back this time posed for Kitaj, he was still well received by the public. In 1996 he received the Wollaston Award for the best painting in the Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts for his work "The Critic Kills." Kitaj also received other prestigious awards before leaving England for good in 1997, The Golden Lion for Painting (1995) and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres presented to him by Jacques Chirac (1996).
    When Kitaj returned to the United States with his son Max, he bought a house in Westwood near UCLA, where he built a yellow studio. In 2001, Kitaj accepted the National Gallery of London's invitation to mount an exhibition of his work, Kitaj: In the Aura of Cezanne and Other Masters, his largest single exhibition. In Los Angeles, Kitaj focused on the development of what he called his "old-age style" which continued to reflect a variety of interests, including his life-long obsession with Cezanne, "The Jewish Question", and the untimely death of his wife Sandra Fisher. Some important works from this time include two series; the Los Angeles Pictures and Little Pictures. In 2007, Yale University Press published Kitaj's "Second Diasporist Manifesto." In October of 2007, Kitaj died in his home just weeks before his 75th birthday. Kitaj's last exhibition, "R.B. Kitaj: Little Pictures" was held in 2008 at the Marlborough Gallery, New York.


    Scope and Content

    The contents of the R.B. Kitaj Papers give insight into the private and working life of the artist across several decades. It includes personal and business correspondence, writings by and about Kitaj, the artist's studio materials and art sources, research materials, publicity materials, drafts and proofs for several publications, photographs and other collected mementos and ephemera. Of particular interest are Kitaj's autobiographical writings, correspondence with individuals such as David Hockney, Lee Friedlander, Peter Blake, Frank Aurback, and Phillip Roth, napkin sketches, and A Day Book–a collaboration between Kitaj and Robert Creeley.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series:
    1. Academies, 1983-2006
    2. Materials Created By R.B. Kitaj, 1978-2006
      1. Writings
      2. Sketches
      3. Artworks
    3. Writings about R.B. Kitaj, 1980-2002
      1. Biographies
      2. Interviews
      3. Writings on R.B. Kitaj
    4. Publicity, 1963-2006
      1. Exhibits
      2. Awards
    5. Personal Objects and Memorabilia, 1975-2003
      1. Personal Documents
      2. Collected Objects and Materials
      3. Photographs
      4. Family and Friends
    6. Materials Collected by R.B. Kitaj, 1984-2003
      1. Invitations
      2. Art Exhibits, Catalogs, and Posters
      3. Art Bulletins
      4. Works by Others
      5. Photographs
    7. Miscellaneous, 1980-2000
    8. Personal Correspondence, 1951-2006
    9. Business Correspondence, 1957-2006
    10. Judaica
    11. Tate Materials
    12. Art Sources
      1. Studio Materials
      2. Cezanne
      3. Photographs
    13. Audio Visual Materials
      1. Cassette tape
      2. Compact disc
      3. Videotapes

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    COLLECTION CONTAINS DIGITAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. To access digital materials you must notify the reference desk in advance of your visit.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Kitaj, R. B. --Archives.
    Artists --United States --Archival resources.

    Related Material

    Sandra Fisher papers (Collection 1870). Available at UCLA Library Special Collections.