R. B. Kitaj (b. 1932)
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R. B. Kitaj (b. 1932)

Greenwich Village

R. B. Kitaj (b. 1932)
Greenwich Village
oil on canvas
72 x 72¼in. (183 x 183.5cm.)
Painted in 1990-93
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Acquavella Galleries, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1993.
Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Double Reality: The School of London, September 1993-April 1994.
London, Tate Gallery, R. B. Kitaj: a Retrospective, June-September 1994, no. 105 (illutrated in colour, p. 205). This exhibition later travelled to Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, October 1994-January 1995 and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, February-May 1995.
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, The School of London and Their Friends: the Collection of Elaine and Melvin Merians, October 2000-January 2001, no. 43 (illustrated in colour, p. 43). This exhibition later travelled to Purchase, Neuberger Museum of Art, January-May 2001.
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Lot Essay

'Auden, who lived in the Village, said that every Poem he writes involves his whole past. How could it be otherwise when one paints a picture? Greenwich Village was where my grown-up art life began when I was seventeen and where I have tended to land during Manhattan periods ever since.

I first read Hart Crane in the Village, pressed into my hands by the Eighth Street bookseller Joe Kling, whose remembered visage appears on the old gent at the lower right with handkerchief sticking out of his pocket. Joe, who deserves a picture to himself, was the first to publish the teenage Harold Crane, fresh from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, which I used to give as my birthplace when I was young because I thought I it sounded more poetic than Cleveland. At Joe's last shop in Greenwich Avenue, I used to turn the pages, washing my hands first, of the Black Sun, edition of Crane's masterwork The Bridge, which I could not afford to buy until many years later when I became a rich artist. It was in the spirit of that other wide-eyed symbolist ode to New York by another Ohio boy that I conceived this picture. At the top is the cursory sign of the arch where Fifth Avenue begins, and that's me sleeping on a park bench, (which I did a few night between ships) and also me later in uniform, on a weekend pass from Fort Dix, hanging out upon the dry fountain at Washington Square, trying without luck to pick up girls. At other Village moments in time during the picture, I would be luckier as you can see…earlier, as an art student I would draw girlfriends there (lower left) and later in life I would love and suffer love there.

At first, the whole central composition was based on the two receding ark walls of Uccello's great 'Flood', but after almost a year I decided on less fearful symmetry and only the left-hand indigo wall remains, to which Village memories cling, still, mood indigo'. (Kitaj in R. B. Kitaj: a Retrospective, Tate Gallery Publications, London 1994, p. 204.)

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