In his first solo exhibition, held in London in 1963, R.B. Kitaj presented “The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg” as a historical painting. The canvas doesn’t show the murder itself – as the title suggests – but the moment in which the dead body is thrown into the water. The corpse seems to float in the center of the painting.
In the upper half, the figures of Germania and Count Helmuth von Moltke allude to the historical context of the murder: A social climate that was nationalistic, with a military influence, which started with the founding of the German Empire. The monuments at the left and lower part of the painting are symbolic of the historical appreciation for the life and work of Rosa Luxemburg.
In the right corner of the painting, Kitaj placed a note in which he explains the sources of the images he used and quotes a publication on Rosa Luxemburg. This is the report taken from Paul Fröhlich’s first biography on Rosa Luxemburg:
“… Rosa Luxemburg was led from the Hotel Eden by Lieutenant Vogel. Before the door a trooper named Runge was waiting with orders from Lieutenant Runge and Captain Horst von Pflugk-Hartung to strike her to the ground with the butt of his carbine. He smashed her skull with two blows and she was then lifted half-dead into a waiting car, and accompanied by Lieutenant Vogel and a number of other officers. One of them struck her on the head with the butt of his revolver, and Lieutenant Vogel killed her with a shot in the head at point-blank range. The car stopped at the Liechtenstein Bridge over the Landwehr Canal, and her corpse was then flung from the bridge into the water, from which it was not recovered until the following May.”
(from Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Paul Frölich’s “Rosa Luxemburg” …
Left Book Club Edition, Victor Gollancz, 1940)
Around this period, Kitaj was not only interested in Luxemburg but also in other outsiders and revolutionaries in general.
R.B. Kitaj on his painting "The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg" (Excerpts from the exhibition's audio guide, narrator: Peter Rigney)