Ron Kitaj Reading

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  • Provenance

    James Kirkman, London
    Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1998

  • Literature

    Studio International, vol. 188, no. 971, London, November 1974 (illustrated on front and back cover)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The stylistic rendering of David Hockney’s fellow artist and dear friend Ron (R.B.) Kitaj illustrates the artist’s unmatched ability to capture his subjects in a specific moment in time. Depicted reading in his London library, Kitaj stands in front of bookshelves overflowing with artistic inspiration: art monographs are interspersed with framed homages to the work of Modern Masters and contemporaneous artists whom he admired. In vibrant blocks of color and illustrations that reflect the close level of introspection with which Hockney approached his drawings, he has captured the true essence of Kitaj, who was defined by his love of art, pop culture and literature. Depicted wearing a pink sweater vest, a green collared shirt and cargo pants, Kitaj is instantly recognizable by his beard. His gaze is directed down at the book in his hands, highlighting his reputation as an avid reader and wordsmith. Indeed, Kitaj was as much a renowned professor as he was an artist, both passions that Hockney has succeeded in encapsulating. He also captured what Tate Britain curator Chris Stephens describes as “not just the form of the body, its attire and setting, but the personality of the sitter and a sense of time” (Chris Stephens, “Close Looking” in David Hockney, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2017, p. 96).

    Executed in 1974, the present work highlights the enduring friendship between Hockney and Kitaj, who met as students at the Royal College of Art in London in 1959, when Kitaj was immediately struck by his classmate’s prowess as a draughtsman. Kitaj recalled his first impression of Hockney fondly: “we were in the Cast Room and I watched him spend his first week drawing a skeleton. It was the most beautiful drawing I had ever seen in an art school. I offered him £5 for it and he accepted…We became close friends very quickly, and have been like brothers ever since” (R.B. Kitaj, quoted in Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, London, 1988, p. 22). Until Kitaj’s death in 2008, the two artists influenced each other’s practices, both equally passionate for observational figure drawing that would come to define their practices.

    Hockney echoed the statements made by Kitaj, calling him “the artist who influenced me most strongly…It’s partly because I’ve always admired his art enormously…and also because he opened my eyes a great deal and I always think of things beginning from particular moments when I discussed things with him. I think of my painting beginning properly then” (David Hockney, quoted in Mark Glazebrook, “David Hockney: An Interview” in David Hockney Paintings, prints and drawings 1960-1970, exh. cat., The Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1970, pp. 9-10). It was Kitaj who was repeatedly credited as Hockney’s greatest influence for the renowned double portraits begun in the late 1960s, in which he began to explore the relationship between figures and the interior spaces that ground them. The mastery of this is exemplified in the present drawing of Kitaj in his home, where the importance of the library setting is paramount to the finished composition.

    Created three years after Hockney’s split from his romantic partner Peter Schlesinger, the present work was made during what is perhaps the most prolific time in the artist’s career. The colored crayon drawings beginning in 1971 are often considered the finest in Hockney’s oeuvre, together serving as an autobiography telling the stories of the portraitist’s travels and experiences with friends. During this time Hockney drew wherever he went, seeking salvation from his heartbreak in his practice. Other subjects depicted in these drawings include Man Ray, Andy Warhol, Celia Birtwell and Henry Geldzahler, each of whom he studied in various settings around the world. Expanding on these early 1970s drawings, Marco Livingstone points out, “the almost reverential attentiveness…is evident in Hockney’s delicately rendered drawings in colored crayons, which reach their highest level in…1972 and 1973 after separating from Peter. All of these works…were crucial markers in his conscious return to the human figure—a rejection of the conceptualist and minimalist modes then in the ascendant” (Marco Livingstone, “The Human Dimension”, in David Hockney, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2017, p. 252). It was exactly this embracement of figure drawing that has come to define Hockney’s successful career today, helping to establish the artist as one of the most successful portraitists in contemporary art.

28

Important works by David Hockney from an Esteemed European Collection

Ron Kitaj Reading

signed twice with the artist’s initials and dated “DH. 74” lower right
colored crayon and graphite on paper
16 7/8 x 27 3/4 in. (42.9 x 70.5 cm.)
Executed in 1974.

Estimate
$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018