The painting "Kennst Du das Land?" combines various fragments that Kitaj associated with the time of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the fight against fascism. The soldiers in a snowy landscape set the thematic focus on nationalism and militarism in Spain.
The upper section of the painting opens additional levels of association. Kitaj incorporated a sketch after Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), which shows a woman adjusting her stocking, thus drawing parallels to a time in which Spanish society was marked by struggles between progress and reaction.
The original German title of the painting and the two lemons that appear to have been placed at random make reference to a verse from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-96) which tells the story of a yearning for Italy and that Kitaj here transfers to Spain.
In 1953 Kitaj spent his first winter in Sant Feliu de Guíxols, north of Barcelona. This city became a second home for the artist, especially because of his close friendship with Josep Vicente Romà (1923-2011). Kitaj was fascinated by Josep's intense bond to Catalonia, his struggle for the Spanish republic, and his Catalonian patriotism. These experiences inspired Kitaj to deal with questions of his own origins and his Jewish identity, and would fundamentally shape his artistic work.
R.B. Kitaj on his painting "Kennst Du das Land?" (Excerpts from the exhibition's audio guide, narrator: Peter Rigney)