T. S. Eliot in the Art of R. B. Kitaj: Anatomy of an Influence

  • Dídac Llorens-Cubedo Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED)


R. B. Kitaj’s keen interest in literature, which he connected with his Jewish heritage and its reverence for the written word, shows through as an essential characteristic of his art. As a young artist, Kitaj’s cultural referents included Ezra Pound and, especially, T. S. Eliot. The external and imaginative structure of The Waste Land (1922) inspired the composition of Kitaj’s Tarot Variations (1958), while Eliot’s “Notes” to the poem were a model for Kitaj’s “prefaces,” short texts supplementing many of his paintings. If Not, Not (1975-1976) memorialises the Shoah, also drawing on The Waste Land—the definitive text as well as its drafts and critical reception. Like Eliot’s poetry, Kitaj’s art is highly allusive, in a way that conforms to Eliot’s views on tradition and creativity. This is one of the reasons to stress the continuities with modernism in Kitaj’s figurative art, which developed in the predominantly non-figurative context of postmodernism. In later years, Kitaj distanced himself from Eliot—prominently in The Killer-Critic (1997)—rejecting the poet’s early emphasis on impersonality and the anti-Semitism of his verse. Despite these differences, Eliot’s influence on Kitaj was intense, long-lasting and productive.Keywords: R. B. Kitaj; T. S. Eliot; modernism; influence; tradition

Author Biography

Dídac Llorens-Cubedo, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED)
Dídac Llorens-Cubedo teaches English and American literature at the Spanish Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED). He has published T. S. Eliot and Salvador Espriu: Converging Poetic Imaginations (Universitat de València, 2013) and coedited New Literatures of Old: Dialogues of Tradition and Innovation in Anglophone Literatures (Cambridge Scholars, 2008). His research focuses on modernism, (neo)Victorianism and comparative literature across languages and the arts.


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