RB Kitaj 1932 - 2007
There is still a mystery about the circumstances surrounding Kitaj's death in October, just as there was about the nature of the falling out with his critics during his Tate retrospective in 1994 and the sudden death of his partner Sandra Fisher. Kitaj felt deeply wronged and it reinforced his vision of himself as the perpetual outsider, the diasporic exile who, when he left Britain, had just been exiled once more.
But the blazing polemics of his later years - dismissing his critics as 'anti-Semitic, anti-American, anti-foreign, and anti-intellectual' - should not disguise his impact as an extremely good and serious painter, and many younger painters felt deprived of his example when he angrily left the stage a decade ago. More than a few wished he had stayed, if only to embolden those who still believe in the history and potency of the painted image.
It is some consolation that a few months ago he agreed to let some of his work be shown with a group of younger British painters, not here in London but in Bergamo, Italy. His most recent pictures were strikingly vivid and immediate (see Morandi's Bed), like the work of an old master cutting loose, or of a mischievous prophet (which is the way he appears in the photograph he supplied for the exhibition catalogue) - all of which makes it sadder that his welcome and belated involvement cannot now be repeated.