RB Kitaj and the idea of Europe

Marshall, Francis (2017) RB Kitaj and the idea of Europe. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (11MB)


This thesis analyses European themes in the work of the American painter RB Kitaj. It focuses most closely on the 1960s, a relatively under-researched period of his work, certainly compared with the 1970s and 80s, in part because most of the existing literature follows Kitaj’s reading of his own oeuvre. Using canvases from the 1960s as examples, the thesis examines Kitaj’s concerns with the history of the European Left prior to World War II. Study of these paintings reveals how, even at this early stage of his career, Kitaj conflated autobiography and history. A comparison of Kitaj’s published and draft texts, written during and after these paintings were made, shows him altering their meaning according to his current concerns. This, in turn, shows how his revisions influenced later scholars’ readings. Furthermore, due attention is given to two important, though often overlooked, bodies of work from the 1960s: the screenprints and the installation made at Lockheed for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Both reveal a sustained engagement with European themes, such as the Industrial Revolution, Modernism and its legacies, and Jewish history. Whereas Kitaj emphasised the centrality of Judaism to his work throughout the 1970 and 80s, he downplayed his concern with technology and Modernism, although both continued to inform his imagery until well into the 1980s. His shift away from new technology (eg photo-screenprinting) and a Modernist aesthetic, in favour of life drawing, is analysed against contemporary artistic debates in Britain, together with his fascination with the evolving history of the European Left during the 1970s. Kitaj’s work reveals a sustained but constantly modulating, at times conflicted, meditation on European history and culture from an American perspective. In the final analysis, however, his engagement with Europe is, perhaps, the result of a spiritual and psychological impulse rooted in his personal and family history.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Art History
Subjects: D History > D History (General) > D900 Europe (General)
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general > NX0440 History of the arts > NX0456 20th century. General works > NX0456.5 Special aspects or movements, A-Z > NX0456.5.M64 Modernism
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2017 09:22
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:49
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/67390

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update