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    Sale 7603

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale (Morning)

    1 July 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 102

    R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)

    Unity Mitford

    Price Realised  


    R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
    Unity Mitford
    signed and titled 'KITAJ UNITY MITFORD' (on the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    10 x 7 7/8in. (25.5 x 20cm.)
    Painted in 1968

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    She was 'Hitler's English Rose', this is how R. B. Kitaj described Unity Mitford (R. B. Kitaj in R. B. Kitaj: a Restrospective, exh. cat., London, Tate Gallery, 1994, p. 216).

    The six daughters of the aristocratic Mitford family have become an English myth under the name of the Mitford sisters. From Jessica, the communist, to Nancy, the writer, and Diana who married British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, the sisters form an extraordinary clan famous for its social and political exploits. The present work, painted from a snapshot, shows Unity Mitford with her swastika pinned to her collar, pointing out the figure's political commitment to the Führer. There was more to her admiration than political allegiance, this was actually love in a war climate. In fact, Unity had met the Chancellor at the Nuremberg rally in 1933 and had become obsessed with him, however, Unity's adulation of Hitler would prove to fail her. So distraught was she upon learning of Great Britain's declaration of war on Germany in 1939, and so torn between her German love and the love of her native country, that she tried to commit suicide. Executed in 1968, the painting offers a striking contrast between the figure's impassive face and the stigmatising Nazi symbol. The minimal choice of colours, the diminutive angle and the small scale all combine to give the painting a voluntarily dry and distant air.

    Throughout his life, American-born R. B. Kitaj painted his personal story through his own family and through his own Jewish identity. Kitaj's Jewish heritage had a critical grounding on his practice as an artist. In this way, by choosing to represent Unity, twenty years after her death, based on a deliberately prosaic source, Kitaj shows the increasing awareness of his own Jewishness. A few decades later, the artist published the First Diasporist Manifesto, discussing the Jewish dimension in his art.

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    Collection of the Artist.
    Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York (acquired from the above circa 2001).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.


    J. Ashbery, J. Shannon, J. Livingston and T. Hyman, KITAJ Paintings, Drawings, Pastels, London 1981, no. 36 (illustrated, unpaged).


    Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, R. B. Kitaj, September-November 1981, no. 68. This exhibition later travelled to Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, December 1981-January 1982 and Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle, February-March 1982.
    London, Tate Gallery, R. B. Kitaj: A Retrospective, June-September 1994, no. 18 (illustrated in colour, p. 111). This exhibition later travelled to Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 1994-January 1995 and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, February-March 1995.