R.B. Kitaj, R.A. (1932-2007)
R.B. Kitaj, R.A. (1932-2007)

Swirling Hamlet

Details
R.B. Kitaj, R.A. (1932-2007)
Swirling Hamlet
signed, inscribed and dated 'SWIRLING HAMLET 1985 Kitaj' (on the canvas overlap)
oil on canvas
60 x 24 in. (152.5 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1985.
Provenance
with Marlborough Fine Art, London, where purchased by the family of the present owner on 7 February 1986.
Literature
Exhibition catalogue, R.B. Kitaj, London, Marlborough Fine Art, 1985, p. 62, no. 61, illustrated.
Exhibited
London, Marlborough Fine Art, R.B. Kitaj, November - December 1985, no. 61.

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Angus Granlund
Angus Granlund

Lot Essay


In 1985, Kitaj embarked on a sequence of paintings inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, following a commission from the Old Vic theatre to make a permanent safety curtain. When working on the commission Kitaj painted Hamlet at several points in the drama and in various guises. Speaking of the commission, Kitaj recalled:

'I decided upon a Hamlet theme, re-read the play and painted a bunch of Hamlet pictures, one of which Hamlet and his Father's Ghost was painted to the correct proportion. Hockney told me which wonderful old firm to use to paint the picture up to the right scale. Jonathan Miller had just been appointed artistic director and he came to the studio to see my painting. He said he didn't want Hamlet and his bloody father coming down during some other play like Lady Windermere's Fan or something. He was quite right and we both laughed. Then I painted The Old Vic to the right proportions' (Kitaj quoted in M. Livingstone, Kitaj, 1999, p. 203).

The Old Vic, 1986, to which Kitaj is referring, depicts Hamlet at different points throughout the play within the contemporary context of London's South Bank. In contrast, the present work focuses solely on Hamlet in a considerably more theatrical pose when he was pretending madness: Kitaj's emphasis on his costume and the abstracted backdrop creates a dynamic sense of movement and drama.
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