- R. B. Kitaj
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1975)
Thence by descent to the present owners
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
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).