Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Kitaj settled in Britain in 1957. He had previously studied at art schools in New York and Vienna and, after serving with the army in Germany, came to England on a G.I. Scholarship to study in Oxford and at the Royal College of Art, London. At a time when abstract art was prevalent, Kitaj worked figuratively, developing a personal artistic language derived from pictorial and literary sources. He became associated with the loose grouping of artists called the 'School of London', who were concerned with the human form. Kitaj moved to Los Angeles in 1997.