R.B. Kitaj The Wedding 1989–93

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Artwork details

Artist
R.B. Kitaj 1932–2007
Title
The Wedding
Date 1989–93
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Unconfirmed: 1829 x 1829 mm
frame: 1990 x 1990 x 73 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the artist 1993
Reference
T06743
Not on display

Summary

This painting depicts the wedding of Kitaj and the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94) which took place in 1983, some six years before this painting was begun. The couple first met in Los Angeles, where Kitaj was teaching. Upon his return to London in 1972, they became reacquainted. Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany the painting's exhibition in the 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective:
Sandra and I were married in the beautiful old Sephardic Synagogue founded in London by Rembrandt's friend, Menasseh ben Israel. Under the chupa (canopy), aside from my children and the Rabbi in top hat, Freud is on the left, Auerbach in the middle, then Sandra and me, and Hockney (best man) is to the right of us. Kossoff appears at the far right, transcribed from a drawing by John Lessore. I worked on the painting for years and never learned how to finish it even though painter friends, including most of those in the picture, gave me good advice about it which I took up and changed things all the time. In the end, instead of finishing it, I finished with it and gave it away to a deserving old friend.
The Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London belongs to the congregation of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and was founded in 1700. The painting synthesises various moments which occurred during the ceremony. The artist, on the right side, wears the traditional shawl of Jewish bridegrooms, and leans forward to embrace the bride. On the left, wearing a top hat, is the Rabbi Abraham Levy, his face partially obscured. Kitaj's three children are also portrayed: his elder son Lem, his adopted daughter Dominie as a bridesmaid in a white sari, and Max, whose head rises from the lower edge of the canvas and who was not actually at the ceremony. (The son of Kitaj and Sandra, Max was born a year after the marriage.)

Kitaj has described Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as 'the most important influence' on this picture, 'not a source but a hovering presence' (unpublished Board note presented to Tate Gallery Trustees, July 1993). The Wedding brings together several crucial themes in Kitaj's art and thought, including his increasing awareness of his identity as a Jew. The prominent depiction of several of the so-called 'School of London' artists relates to Kitaj's identification of these artists as part of a group of painters who were linked by friendship, their response to great masters, their emphasis on drawing and their concern with the human subject.

Further reading:
Richard Morphet (ed.), R.B. Kitaj: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1994, p.221, reproduced p.211 in colour

Terry Riggs
October 1997

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