Born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, Kitaj studied at the Cooper Union Institute in New York in 1950-52. He was a student at the Academy of Fine Art, Vienna in 1951. He attended the Ruskin School, Oxford, in 1958-59, and the Royal College of Art from 1959 to 1961. It was at the Royal College that he met David Hockney, who became a close friend. His first one-man exhibition was held at Marlborough Fine Art, London in 1963. He taught at the University of California Berkeley in 1967-68 and the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1970-71. In 1972 he returned to London. In 1976 Kitaj organized a show for the Arts Council of Great Britain of British works, called The Human Clay and in the essay for the catalogue, which became one of the key art historical texts of the period, he proposed the idea of a School of London. In 1989 he published the First Diasporist Manifesto, discussing the Jewish dimension in his art and thought. His various honours include election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1982. In 1985 he became the first American since Sargent to be elected to the Royal Academy. Numerous retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held, including shows at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC and tour 1981-82; and the Tate Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1994-95. In 1991 he received honorary doctorate from Royal College of Art, London.He moved to Los Angeles in 1997.