Do You Know Catalonia?

Soldiers in a snowy landscape

R.B. Kitaj, Kennst Du das Land?, 1962 © R.B. Kitaj Estate

A few years ago during a summer spent in Catalonia, I strolled through the port city of Sant Feliu de Guíxols. It is a special place: it was spared the transgressions of the Spanish coast’s building mania due to its fishing industry. It is not merely decorative but in fact successful in a particular industrial branch: producing cork. And here – nominally part of Spain but somehow a place all of its own – R.B. Kitaj and his wife spent the winter of 1953/54. Twenty years later, he bought a house in this town. What did it mean to him, this stubborn region that again and again rebelled against Spanish supremacy?

Woman seated, above her two cats

R.B. Kitaj, The Hispanist (Nissa Torrents) 1977–1978 © R.B. Kitaj Estate

Kitaj called Catalonia a “beacon for the slumbering Jewishness in me, that awake would become a torrent.” His friendship with a Catalan cork manufacturer Josep Vicente Roma – “slender with an aquiline nose, mustached and socialist and nimble and quick-witted”

Man smoking a cigarette

José Vicente, (unfinished study for The Singers), 1972–1974 © R.B. Kitaj Estate

– was an inspiration and kind of home for him. Catalonia left many traces in his paintings: for instance, in “The Hispanist” or “Kennst Du das Land?”  The land and the culture had symbolic meaning and become places of longing: “Catalonia, that played a part in inspiring me to become this strange Jew, perhaps the first Jew who wanted to unleash a new Jewish art.”

Martina Lüdicke, Exhibitions