The title of the present work, The Red and the Black, makes an obvious allusion to the famous novel of the same title by Stendahl (pseudonym for Marie-Henri Beyle, 1783-1842), while at the same time describing the hair colour of the two nudes in this highly finished drawing. This knowingly provocative juxtaposition of word and image, of literary reference and a frank depiction of nudity, raises the question of parallels between the work of these two creators. Stendahl, one of the fathers of the modern novel, shares with Kitaj a sense of melodrama, as well as treating his subject with a high degree of realism and deep psychological probing. As Stephen Spender stated in the preface to the 1980 exhibition catalogue where The Red and the Black was first exhibited: "Many of the drawings are erotic. But the sensuality, however self-contained, seems to refer to worlds of experience beyond it. One wonders about the lives and circumstances of figures embracing. Confronted by a nude of Kitaj one thinks of the person, the character, of this figure: what kind of room she lives in. These paintings remind me of Keats's hauntingly ambiguous phrase "oh for a world of pure sensation!" The sensual here diversifies into very powerful symbols of communication between the subjects of these nudes and the spectator. Kitaj's painting constantly suggests communication through a language of senses, a world in which the brothel is a secular temple.
All this shows that Kitaj, in his later work, has gone forward from surrealism and back to his protean moderns and that the literary element remains strong and constant in his work. The titles of some works...are pointers to this."
(S. Spender, 'R.B. Kitaj: An Introduction' in exh. cat. Marlborough Gallery, London, R.B. Kitaj, October-November 1980, p.6)