The American painter Ronald Brooks Kitaj (1932–2007) lived in London for more than thirty years. Like his artist friends David Hockney and Lucian Freud, he remained loyal to figurative art throughout his career, unperturbed by the predominance of abstract painting.
Kitaj’s foremost artistic theme was that of his own Jewish identity. In 1985, he made the acquaintance of the American-Jewish writer Philipp Roth (1933–2018), likewise in London. The same year, he drew Roth’s portrait in charcoal on heavy, ochre-coloured laid paper whose coarse surface, reminiscent of unprimed canvas, lends the charcoal line a haptic structure. It is this materiality that—along with the tension-filled alternation between sketchiness and perfected rendering—gives the drawing its character. Whereas the face has been developed to near three-dimensionality, the rest of the body is merely alluded to with a few decisive strokes. That is especially true of the propped-up leg, which pushes itself between the subject and the viewers like a barrier, keeping them at a distance as they come under Roth’s attentive gaze.