R B Kitaj 1932-2007

The artist R B Kitaj, who died in October, lived at 131 Burbage Road for about ten years from around 1959 when he was studying at the Royal College of Art. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932, Kitaj ran away from home as a teenager and spent four years in the merchant navy, breaking his voyages to South America with spells at art school at the Cooper Union Institute in New York and at the Akademie der bildenden K_nste in Vienna.

It was probably in Vienna he met the mysterious Austrian count who was a benefactor to impoverished artists and scholars. The count owned the house in Burbage Road which was to become the home of Kitaj and his first wife Elsi. The fledgling Dulwich Society supported the Kitaj's objection to the building of a groundsman's hut behind their house which they argued spoilt their view. When Kitaj left Dulwich in the late 1960's the count invited the Austrian art historian Fritz Grossmann to live there.

The 1960's were perhaps Kitaj's most successful years with his 1963 one-man exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art being acclaimed a critical and financial success and his work remained in steady demand from museums and private collectors. The decade saw his production of collage-based screen prints which were influential, and widely admired. He was a consistently controversial figure with an uncompromising insistence of subject matter rooted in personal conviction and this led to his consequent dismissal of most abstraction and other forms of late modernism. Paradoxically he was to disassociate himself with the Pop Art he helped to spawn at the Royal College.

According to his obituary in The Times, the suicide of his wife in 1969 sent him into a deep depression which reduced his output for several years. In the mid-1970's he turned to life drawing as the pre-eminent ingredient of his art and characteristically disowned most of his graphic work as facile and overly mechanical.

He never recovered his earlier success in Britain and his exhibitions at Marlborough in 1980 and the retrospective at the Tate in 1994 were badly received, the latter attracting the most violent attacks by critics in living memory. These attacks deeply wounded him and the tragic death of his second wife which followed a few weeks later from a ruptured aneurysm on the brain he blamed on the stress caused by the critics' prolonged attacks. The exhibition was much more warmly received in Los Angeles and New York. Kitaj's last exhibition in Britain was in 2001 at the National Gallery (Kitaj in the Aura of Cezanne and Other Masters). Perhaps the Dulwich Picture Gallery should consider a retrospective of his art of his Dulwich years.

Dermot Englefield 1927-2007

Dermot Englefield was a long-term resident of Dulwich and a member of the Dulwich Society. For forty years he was the Librarian of the House of Commons Library. During this time he supervised the enlargement of the Library and its research, information and reference services. He played a highly appreciated role in international work and he was chairman of the Parliamentary Libraries Section of the International Federation of Library Associations from 1985-89. He acted as a consultant to the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the proposed Scottish assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

Go to top