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

A Small Defeat

Details
R.B. Kitaj, R.A. (1932-2007)
A Small Defeat
signed 'Kitaj' (lower right) and later signed, inscribed and dated 'R.B. Kitaj 1966/A SMALL DEFEAT 1963' (on the backboard)
oil on canvas
11 x 14¼ in. (27.9 x 36.2 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist.
Literature
Exhibition catalogue, Kitaj: Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, 1970, no. 161 (listed under Important Paintings not in the Exhibition), illustrated, as 'Untitled'.
U. Schneede, exhibition catalogue, Pop Art in England: Beginnings of a new Figuration 1947-63, Hamburg, Kunstverein, 1976.
Exhibited
Hamburg, Kunstverein, Pop Art in England: Beginnings of a new Figuration 1947-63, February - March 1976, ex-catalogue: this exhibition travelled to Munich, Stdt. Galerie im Lenbachhaus, April - May 1976; and York, City Art Gallery, May - July 1976.
Special notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

Brought to you by

André Zlattinger
André Zlattinger

Lot Essay

Kitaj's fascination with what he termed 'heroic failure', particularly in history and politics, came to the fore early in his career in the 1960s. The breadth of his reading and curiosity and his predisposition to take as his starting-point photographs and illustrations culled from books, newspapers and magazines, can make the task of unravelling the subject matter of his pictures something of an adventure in itself. The trio of male figures portrayed in this small but decoratively opulent painting carry an aura of mission in the way they present themselves to the viewer's scrutiny; it seems likely, given Kitaj's way of working, that he began here with an old photograph already endowed with a patina of time and then subjected it to his own projections of romantic fantasy expressed through the flattened forms, mask-like faces and delirium of colour. The headgear they are wearing, and the sense of the three men being bundled up in protective clothing, suggests that they might be World War I aviators or, more likely, members of Scott or Shackleton's highly dangerous expeditions to Antarctica in the early part of the 20th century. (Explorers to both the Arctic and Antarctic, like mountaineers, often wore bright colours so that they could be more easily found if lost or buried in snow.) Having spent part of his teenage years as a merchant seaman sailing around South America, Kitaj was certainly intrigued by adventure and manly, risk-taking pursuits. In 1961 he had painted Austro-Hungarian Footsoldier (Museum Ludwig, Cologne), and in 1964 he was to create a portrait of his American poet friend Jonathan Williams under the title Aureolin in the guise of a uniformed airman or parachutist. There is an implicit sense of his identification with all these figures, even in the acceptance of likely failure, as a metaphor or parallel for the modernist avant-garde that he so admired and that he accepted as blazing the trail for his own artistic enterprise.

We are very grateful to Marco Livingstone for preparing this catalogue entry.

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