The Personal Collection of R.B. Kitaj at Christies

LONDON.- On 7 February 2008, Christie’s will pay tribute to R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007), a celebrated artist and the originator of the ‘School of London.’ The Collection of R.B. Kitaj comprises over 50 works from the painter’s personal collection, the majority of which were created by artists he associated with the ‘School of London’ such as Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, David Hockney and of course Kitaj himself. The works pay a moving and insightful testimony to the friendships between Kitaj and these fellow artists, many of whom are now major fixtures in the Post-War and Contemporary Art field. This highly personal collection includes rare works, some of them gifts from the artists, and many of them appear at auction for the first time including oil paintings, drawings and prints; the collection is estimated in the region of £3 million.

“Christie’s is honoured to offer such a personal and important collection. R.B. Kitaj was an artist whose works dwelled upon and were fuelled by personal and collective experience and memory. Many of these pictures reveal his connections with his friends, friendships and the artists whom he respected and adored,” said Amy Cappellazzo, International Head of Post War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s.

“Kitaj was the first artist to identify a ‘School of London’ and so it is fitting that his collection is being offered in London, a city that he loved and which provided the backdrop for so many of his works and so much of his career,” says Pilar Ordovas, Head of Post War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s London.

In 1976, American-born R.B. Kitaj curated an exhibition entitled The Human Clay. In his catalogue essay, he referred to himself as a member of the ‘School of London’, a term that then sparked both debate and denial but which now has come to evoke the works of a select group of artists which includes Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and R.B. Kitaj.

Within this group, one of the most legendary friendships was that between Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, who both were close friends of Kitaj. Early on Bacon had declared Kitaj to be the most promising young artist of his day. During the early 1950s, Bacon and Freud were almost inseparable, two forces to be reckoned with both on the Post-War British art scene and in the bars and nightclubs of London. Francis Bacon, 1951 (estimate: £100,000-150,000) by Lucian Freud (b. 1922) is a fascinating drawing showing a contemplative Bacon standing in a self-conscious and carnal pose.

The Collection of R.B. Kitaj includes 14 works by Frank Auerbach (b. 1931). These provide insight into the friendship between the two artists and into the private world of Auerbach himself such as the frank and arresting charcoal Self Portrait, 1958 (estimate: £100,000-150,000). Auerbach has long preferred to paint the people in his own tight circle, often rendering the features of the same person again and again. Helen Gillespie was a preferred early subject, featuring in at least three oil portraits by Auerbach painted during the early 1960s including Portrait of Helen Gillespie I (estimate: £400,000-600,000). Other personal works include Catherine Lambert, 1983 (estimate: £200,000-300,000) and Head of Paula Eyles, 1972 (estimate: £200,000-300,000).

Kitaj’s own pictures convey a strong sense of personal experience and memory: his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1982 (estimate: £30,000-40,000) shows the artist paying knowing tribute to the history of art and self-portraiture. Similarly, Marynka Smoking, 1980 (estimate: £70,000-100,000), an exquisite pastel, is a beguiling representation of the female nude that ties into Kitaj’s complex inter-layering of memory, experience and his own visual and literary learning.

Kitaj’s own features are shown in an absorbing portrait by his former classmate, David Hockney (b. 1937), Ron Kitaj outside the Academy Vienna (estimate: £25,000-35,000). Kitaj’s influence on many of his classmates at the Royal College of Art in London was vast. This older, profoundly literary and figurative artist was, in the late 1950s, fighting against the prevailing currents. His example profoundly influenced a great number of artists, including Hockney himself. It is telling that almost two decades later, Hockney’s intimate portrait shows Kitaj outside the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, where he had studied under Schiele’s friend Albert Paris von Gütersloh.

A further selection of works from the R.B. Kitaj Collection will be offered in the London Prints sales in March and June 2008.