Lot 8
  • 8

R. B. Kitaj

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • R. B. Kitaj
  • Waiting
  • signed
  • pastel on paper
  • 79 by 56cm.; 31 1/8 by 22 1/8 in.
  • Executed in 1975.


Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London

Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1975)

Thence by descent to the present owners 


Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, R. B. Kitaj, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1976, n.p., no. 84, illustrated

London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., R. B. Kitaj: Pictures, 1977, p. 41, no. 38, illustrated

Paris, Fondation Nationale pour les Arts Graphiques, Papier sur Nature, 1977, p. 45, no. 92, illustrated

Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Nouvelle Subjectivité, 1979, p. 97, no. 4 (text)

New York, Marlborough Gallery, R. B. Kitaj: Fifty Drawings and Pastels, Six Oil Paintings, 1979, n.p., no. 37, illustrated 

London, Tate Gallery; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, R. B. Kitaj: A Retrospective, 1994-95, p. 114, no. 27, illustrated in colour


Marco Livingstone, R. B. Kitaj, 1985, p. 158, no. 182 (text); and 2010, p. 268, no. 191 (text)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. The sheet is hinged to the backing board along the top edge. All four edges are deckled and there are artist's pinholes in places along the top edge. There is some extremely minor undulation to the sheet.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A fascination with the history of art has always characterised R. B. Kitaj’s illustrious oeuvre since his days as a student up until his very final works. In his earlier pieces, Kitaj addressed the Old Masters in a freely tangential manner, paraphrasing parts of paintings and iconography and translating them into his own distinctive lexicon. In the mid-seventies, however, Kitaj embarked upon a pivotal and exceptional series of pastel drawings that were to shape his later practice and come to define his utterly passionate interest in the history of art. Based on Edgar Degas’ Waiting and his exotic late pastels of nudes, Kitaj’s melancholic Waiting is one of the very best examples of what is arguably the artist’s most desirable series.

The moment of revelation came on a trip to the Petit Palais, Paris, to see Degas’ drawings with David Hockney in 1974. A turning point for the artist, from hereon in Kitaj carved out an almost fervent trajectory of re-education in the skills of draughtsmanship. As the artist explained, “the drawings of Degas are one of those artistic achievements by which I measure all art” and in particular it was the late pastels that moved him: “these crazy exquisite summations of a lifetime, these heavily contoured, highly emphatic, utterly invented visions of women. Like Cézanne’s bathers, their facial features are incredible like no women ever seen because, I suspect, the drawing hand was obeying a higher order, both in Degas and Cézanne, born of reclusion and mastery and sensation” (R. B. Kitaj quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, (and travelling), R. B. Kitaj: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 20). This change in attitude was a crucial one, as Kitaj reflected in a letter early in 1980: “I did love the grand masters when I was young but I did not know what to do with them… They were like roots deep in the earth (Giotto, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya, Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne)… and like so many young people, I was attracted by the pretty, frail wisps growing on the surface – the dandelion weeds (Duchampism, collagism, montage, Surrealism, the chimerical ‘freedoms’ young artists cherish so). These dandelions are so easy to pluck, so much easier to get at than the deep roots… they now seem like fool’s gold in my own practice” (R. B. Kitaj quoted in: Marco Livingstone, Kitaj, London 1992, p. 31).

In part, Waiting takes for its subject Degas’s mysterious pastel drawing of the same name, which intriguingly depicts two seated women, their faces cast downwards, on a rickety wooden bench and executed with bold lashings of chalky pastels. Attaining a similar brilliance of colour and emotive capacity to the nineteenth-century master, the present work broadcasts crimson reds, fleshy pinks and crumbly whites that have been eloquently wrought and rubbed into the pronounced grain of Kitaj’s homemade paper. Here the soft voluptuous form of the coquettish nude who nervously sits on the edge of the bed is articulated with an unparalleled sense of intimacy. Translating the melancholia of Degas’ women, in the present work the nude sits, head in hands, with the traditional melancholic trope of a watch adorning her wrist. Although stooped in art historical tradition, Kitaj, and other artists of the School of London such as Francis Bacon, were fascinated by Degas’ pastel drawings and sought to thoroughly embed the medium in a late modern sensibility. Perfectly encapsulating these late modern sentiments, in Waiting, Kitaj employed pastel in an almost Mattisean manner, thrusting vibrant canary yellows and bold reds into direct contact with each other and creating an enticing melee of colour.

Eloquently summing up the importance of this remarkable series, writer and critic Frederic Tuten observed; “[Kitaj] reinvigorated the tradition of drawing and of drawing from the figure… These drawings are among the most beautiful we have seen in decades and their existence at this time raises substantial questions about where we have been in the last 30 years and where, if anywhere our art is going” (Frederic Tuten, ‘Neither Fool, nor Naïve, nor Poseur-Saint: Fragments on R. B. Kitaj’, Artforum, Vol. 20, No. 5, Jan 1982, p. 62). Art historian Robert Hughes concludes that, with these pastels, Kitaj “has emerged (along with such Englishmen as Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach) as one of the few real masters of the art of depictive figure drawing now alive” (Robert Hughes quoted in: op. cit., 1994, p. 18).