In the painting “The Jewish Rider,” R.B. Kitaj presents the Jew as a traveler. The train moves through a barren landscape and passes a cross and a chimney, symbolizing Christianity and Jewish suffering respectively.
The picture depicts the notion of the modern diasporist, for whom the state of being on the road is intellectually and emotionally appropriate, but it also refers to the Holocaust and its means of transport. A brief note in the artist’s papers reveals the conceptual beginnings of the painting: “Poland—Auschwitz (Poland)—J. Rider.”
The traveler’s pose evokes Rembrandt’s Polish Rider in a lonely landscape. The rider here present in Kitaj’s painting is his friend Michael Isaac Podro (1931-2008), the British art historian.
In the early 1970s R.B. Kitaj began to focus intensively on his own Jewishness. His “Jewish obsession” became a key dimension of his art, and prompted him to redefine his older works. A Jewish or Diasporist art was intended to give shape to the experience of exile and dissidence, and to develop a singularly Jewish iconography.
R.B. Kitaj on his painting "The Jewish Rider" (Excerpt from the exhibition's audio guide, narrator: Peter Rigney)