R.B. Kitaj: The Man of the Woods and the Cat of the Mountain

Ages ago it seems I first saw a painting by R.B. Kitaj. He is considered a pop artist. The particular image was intriguing and I just wanted to know what it meant. (See more below) The title was The Man of the Woods and the Cat of the Mountain, 1975.


This picture, it turns out, was inspired by a much earlier British illustration from 1821, The Man of the Woods and the Cat-O’Mountain. As shown here:

Yet what does it all mean? The original was said to have been a satire of an unsuccessful royal marriage between George IV and his wife with the wife and groom portrayed as a cat and ape. You see hints of the disaster with the little “kettle of fish” pot, the “hash” pan and the tinderbox that will go boom. Why Kitaj was inspired to paint from this and any meaning of his work I am rather unsure of, but it is curious to note the influence.

Kitaj said he liked the idea of the man who was telling the cat it was a better life outside of the room. It is a far less cheerful room than its predecessor, with a naked lightbulb, hanging laundry that is ominously red, a dirty floor, a hearth that might not be so cheery as much as to make you think of furnaces, crematoriums, Hansel and Gretel, things burning, the mirror is black which might mean any number of things. Jews cover mirrors after a death during a period of mourning. Or the black mirror could mean it is a mirror without reflection, there is no soul to reflect, or that the mirror is reflecting a real or spiritual darkness. The dirtiness of the floor and the ceiling…a lone tree outside that sort of looks the shape of a cross. The triangles, the calendar date on the wall, the skinny black door not wide enough for anyone to get through, and the hat on one of the people’s heads, which looks sort of conical like the hats Jews were forced to wear in Medieval Europe. All of these seemed ominous to me. So when I saw this picture at first, I assumed he was European and that the picture might have something to do with the Holocaust or with Communist oppression of East Germany or the Eastern block. Kitaj actually grew up in Cleveland but took the last name of his Jewish refugee stepfather from Vienna. (Kitaj was also Jewish). It’s interesting how we can see things in films, novels, and works of art that perhaps were never intended, but then I guess this is what makes part of art art, the interaction between the art, artist, and the viewer.

About kinneret

Hello, and welcome. I'm writing this blog under an alias. Why an alias? I started to write what may be described as an "American Gothic" novel (sort of Henry James/ Franz Kafka with violence) with some autobiographical details. ..when I started this blog I just decided to use the alias. This blog is about art and art history, but my interests also include literature, film analysis, psychology, forensic psychology, faerie tale analysis, cognitive therapy, cognitive linguistics, classical theater, World War II, and Russian and British history. My favorite writers include Kafka, the Brontes, and Philip K Dick. Thank you for reading this blog and I will happily reply to any comments.
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