Avigdor Arikha

R.B. Kitaj

1982, published 1983

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Avigdor Arikha 1929–2010
Etching on paper
Image: 258 × 340 mm
Presented by the artist 1987

Catalogue entry

P02945 R.B. Kitaj 1982

Soft-ground etching 258 × 340 on Rives BFK paper 381 × 448 (15 × 17 5/8); printed by Aldo Crommelynck, Paris and published in 1983; artist's proof aside from the edition of 50
Inscribed ‘Arikha 83’ below image b.r., ‘For Richard Morphet, in friendship’ below image at centre, ‘Paris February 1987’ bottom of sheet in centre, and ‘VI/X AP’ below image b.l.
Presented by the artist 1987

Printed in red and black, P02945 is a portrait of the painter R.B. Kitaj seen in profile. It was made by Arikha at the print studio of Aldo Crommelynck in Paris. The plates were drawn on 27 December and the print editioned during the first days of 1983. In a letter to the compiler dated February 1990 Kitaj recalled:

I was living in Paris for a year and on Tuesday mornings I would go to the studio of Aldo Crommelynck, Picasso's great etching printer where I made some prints during that year. In December 1982 we were both working with Aldo and Avigdor drew my portrait in about half an hour one day. I was either working on a plate or just posing or reading - I don't remember.

In conversation with the compiler in Paris on 25 April 1990 Arikha recalled that Kitaj was seated and concentrating on checking a print he was working on entitled ‘Place de la Concorde’. In order to achieve a two-colour print Arikha used two copper plates of the same size which Aldo Crommelynck had prepared with soft-ground. Using a black crayon, the artist drew on the first plate through a sheet of thin Japanese paper. Crommelynck then carefully transferred the paper onto the second plate and Arikha completed the drawing using a red crayon. The plate bearing the drawing of Kitaj's face and hands was printed in red. The other carrying the drawing of his torso was printed in black.

As is his normal practice, Arikha made no preliminary drawings for this portrait. The artist explained, ‘when you engrave directly on the plate the tremor is there, the transmission, the immediacy is there. When I see something which inspires me I want to hold it; now holding means perceiving and reacting immediately. Therefore I never work from a drawing, I never work from anything but life, be it etching, painting or drawing’. Aside from major commissioned portraits where sittings need to be arranged in advance, Arikha does not premeditate his choice of subject.

Arikha and Kitaj first met in 1975 but became close friends in 1982 when Kitaj spent a year in Paris. For Arikha close acquaintance does not necessarily facilitate the task of making a portrait: ‘I think it's easier to draw or paint somebody you don't know because then you see their characteristics. When you know somebody you don't see all their characteristics’. For Arikha, the ‘likeness has to be perfect’.

Arikha drew Kitaj again in the summer of 1983 when he visited London to paint the Queen Mother. In order to maintain the necessary ‘state of concentration’ he kept his visit quiet from most of his London friends and contacts. Kitaj was the major exception and Arikha visited him when he and his wife, the artist Sandra Fisher, were sitting for the artist Raphael Soyer. Arikha made a rawing of Soyer at his easel (repr. A Circle: Portraits and Self-Portraits by Arikha, Auerbach, Kitaj, Freud, exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery 1983, p.8, no.7), of Kitaj posing (repr. ibid., p.13, no.16), and of Kitaj and his wife (the artist, not repr.). Another drawing of Kitaj made at the same time was exhibited in Avigdor Arikha: Paintings, Drawings and Pastels, Marlborough Gallery, New York 1983 (38).

In February 1987 Arikha presented P02945 to Richard Morphet, Keeper of the Tate Gallery Modern Collection. After consultation with the Director, Richard Morphet declined the gift and the artist subsequently presented the work to the Gallery.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


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