Peter Doig - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Peter Doig’s Pivotal 'Red House', 1995-1996

    "The painting combines the key features of Doig's work — the snow, cabin, forest and reflection — all set together in a landscape that evokes memories." Phillips' Chairman Cheyenne Westphal details Peter Doig's breakthrough 'Red Cabin', 1995-1996, executed at a turning point for the artist both in terms of international acclaim and his painterly practice, as he began thinning down the paint to create beautiful diaphanous washes much lighter than his previous impastos.

  • Provenance

    Victoria Miro Gallery, London
    Olbricht Collection, Berlin (acquired from the above in 1996)
    Christie's, London, October 19, 2008, lot 18
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, Victoria Miro Gallery, Freestyle, 1996
    Bremen, Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Peter Doig, Homely, June 22 - August 25, 1996
    Kiel, Kunsthalle; Nuremberg, Kunsthalle; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Peter Doig: Blizzard Seventy-Seven, March 8 - August 16, 1998
    Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Twisted, Urban and Visionary Landscapes in Contemporary Painting, September 23 - November 26, 2000, no. 43 (illustrated, p. 35)
    London, Tate Britain, Peter Doig, February 5 - April 27, 2008, p. 156 (illustrated, p. 77)

  • Literature

    Adrian Searle, Kitty Scott, Catherine Grenier, eds., Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 158 (illustrated, pp.122-123)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “We’ve all experienced the sensation of light dropping and producing strange natural effects, and I think in a way I am using these natural phenomena and amplifying them through the materiality of paint and the activity of painting.” – Peter Doig

    “I am always interested in what we miss when we try to focus on what we see.” – Peter Doig

    Painted between 1995 and 1996, Red House captures the breakthrough moment in Peter Doig’s artistic development when the thick impasto of his early 1990s paintings thawed to reveal diaphanous miasmas of translucent color. Created in the immediate aftermath of his Turner Prize nomination in 1994 which propelled him to international recognition in the art world, Red House meditates on many of the same formal concerns as his masterpiece Ski Jacket, 1994, Tate, London, which was included in this pivotal exhibition. Both paintings find their precedent in Blotter, 1993, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Though these paintings marked a fundamental shift in Doig’s handling of paint, the core tenets of his practice, namely that of the slippage between reality, imagination, and memory, still remain the nexus from which his formal concerns orbit. Red House was featured in the artist’s seminal 1998 solo exhibition Peter Doig: Blizzard Seventy-Seven, which traveled from the Kunsthalle Kiel, to the Kunsthalle Nuremberg, and finally to the Whitechapel Gallery London – the same institution that featured his work when he won the Whitechapel Artist Prize in 1991. Other works featured in the 1998 exhibition that, like the present one, illustrate the crucial inflection point in Doig’s oeuvre included Boiler House, 1994, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Ski Jacket, 1994, Tate Modern, London; Pine House (Room for Rent), 1994; Bird House, 1995, Kunsthalle zu Kiel; Camp Forestia, 1996; Figure in Mountain Landscape, 1997-98, Pinchuk Art Center, Kiev.

    In Red House, Doig sets a striking red house against an ethereal, expansive twilight sky built up from a rich kaleidoscope of intricately veiled layers of colors. The scene slips in and out of focus, with otherworldly, spectral-like figures dissolving into the chromatic landscape. Shards of bare birch trees interrupt the composition, their ice-encrusted trunks, conveyed through delicate washes of blue glaze that branch out into lacey webs against the speckled sky. Doig creates tension in the image by juxtaposing the enveloping glow built up from thinned down pigment against the impastoed blobs and stippled splashes of paint that operate to at once convey a sense of depth, and to reiterate the very nature of the medium. Doig revels in these dichotomies that his painterly style elicits, noting "I am always interested in what we miss when we try to focus on what we see" (Peter Doig, quoted in Harald Fricke, "Drifter: An Interview with Peter Doig”, db artmag, 2004, online).

    This statement seems to find its purest articulation in the thin trunk that starkly cleaves the composition through its vertical axis. The tree acts as a line of demarcation for what Doig calls the “peripheral or marginal sites, places where the urban world meets the natural world. Where the urban elements almost become, literally, abstract devices” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searle, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 139). Art critic Judith Flanders made note of this formal device in speaking of Red House when it was exhibited at the artists’ solo exhibition at the Tate Modern, London, in 2008, noting, “Red House (1995/6) is virtually the first image in this show where a house is part of a neighborhood, not isolated and damply brooding. But it too is estranged, distanced by a series of shadowy figures in the lane, some talking together, some alone, but all looking like grand opera assassins, held in place by a dead, leafless silver birch that rips the canvas into two. More frequently, it is water that divides the canvas, or a wall, or both” (Judith Flanders, “Peter Doig Revisited”, in The Times Literary Supplement, March 14, 2008, online). Not only does this compositional device recall Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings, which influenced Doig in his formative years, it also succeeds in creating that peripheral space where two independent spaces can co-exist within a single composition. This notion of multiple, co-existing spaces is further heightened by the doublings within the landscape, particularly within the reflections within the lake to the lower left of the house. Mirroring and reflection are key compositional devices deployed by the artist during this period and can be found in the diptych, Ski Jacket and Pink Mountain, 1996, formerly in the Bailey Collection, Toronto.

    Cabins, Snows, Reflections

    Red House is absolutely distinct within the artist’s oeuvre for fusing nearly all of the key motifs from this period into one unified composition: snow, forests, cabins and reflections. The notion of man’s relation to landscape was one deeply rooted in Doig’s childhood, having grown up in Canada from the age of seven, and one that he found art historical resonance with in the landscapes of Tom Thomsom and other members of the Canadian Group of Seven. It was upon moving to London from Canada in the early 1990s that these motifs began to figure prominently in Doig’s pictures as he mined magazine advertisements, photographs and childhood memories for archetypical, almost clichéd, images of the Canadian spirit. As Doig pointed out, however, “So many of these paintings are of Canada, but in a way I want it to be a more imaginary place – a place that’s somehow a wilderness” (Peter Doig, quoted in Robert Schiff, “Incidents”, in Peter Doig, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2008, p. 11).

    Created concurrently to Doig’s celebrated Cabin series, 1991-1998, the present work in particular speaks to the symbolic role of architectural structures within Doig’s oeuvre in the 1990s. In Red House, the Breughel-like blizzards that came to define the paintings from the early 1990s have here given way to single snowflakes that twinkle poetically as though remnants of a storm, clearing to bring a red house into sharp focus at twilight. While still recalling Doig’s continued interest in themes evocative of Canada, the work presents the viewer with a more ambiguous scene exploring themes of the human experience, whereby the red house comes to stand in for a multitude of emotional states from homeliness and nostalgia to solitude and isolation. Red House speaks to Doig’s desire at the time to create pictures he described as "homely", a concept innately linked to the uncomplicated comfort of home, but also evocative of the Freudian notion of the uncanny. The uncanny translates to “unheimlich” in German, conjuring in its semantic overlap to “heimlich” (secret) and “Heim” (home) a range of complex associations.

    Speaking of the development of the architecture in his practice, Doig explained, “I have made relatively few straight landscapes that didn’t have any architecture, and I always wanted a landscape to be humanized by a person or a building, at least something that suggests habitation…I started by painting a cabin, and then I moved up the line. I became more interested in what buildings represent. How in a very modest structure, did someone decide to place the windows? Often they seemed to be anthropomorphized” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searle, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 16). In many ways, Doig essentially presents us with his own re-interpretation of Edvard Munch’s Red Virginia Creeper, 1898-1900. In 1994, a year prior to starting the present work, Doig notably included Munch’s painting in his “Top Ten House Painters”, a list prompted by Matthew Higgs’ exhibition Imprint 93 Project at the Cabinet Gallery in London. The parallels to Munch’s painting are striking – it is as though we are seeing the same red house from a more distant vantage point through the haze of snow. The vertical form of a barren tree that disrupts the horizontality of the landscape format in Munch’s Red Virginia Creeper here serves Doig a composition device to make the poles of the urban and the landscape clear. In some ways, it functions as a similar disruption to the landscape scene as Casper David Friedrich’s strategy of including a “Rückenfigur”, i.e. a person seen from behind. At the same time, the explicit sense of isolation, alienation and angst of Munch’s distraught figure gives way to a more subtle, yet just as existential, nostalgic yearning.

    While much is made of the notion of slippage that is engendered in Doig’s paintings, it is in this period that we begin to see the artist converge his geographical displacement into single compositions. From his memories of the wintery wildlands of Canada to the verdant tropics of Trinidad, Doig begins to conceive a surreally unified palette that is representative of both. As our eye moves up toward the horizon and beyond, the sky becomes a swirling auras borealis, with velvety expanses of blue and green opening up into fiery splashes of orange and yellow, a palette that presages Doig’s sun-drenched expanses found in his Canoes and works envisioning Trinidad over the succeeded decade. Indeed, though bathed in frosted winter light, the brighter tonalities found in Red House anticipate the more vibrant stains of color that would come to define his later Trinidadian works. As Doig crucially explained, “People have confused my paintings with being just about my own memories. Of course, we cannot escape these. But I am more interested in the idea of memory” (Peter Doig, quoted in quoted in Robert Schiff, “Incidents”, in Peter Doig, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2008, p. 21).


    For Doig, who draws extensively upon his own experiences of displacement and geographic relocation, the material properties of paint serve to approximate the foggy, inarticulate sensation of remembering. Indeed, both paint and memories are pliable; they can blur, fade, dissipate, liquefy, merge and efface. The distortions captured in the blue-grey areas of the foreground also illustrate Doig’s ability to explore notions of memory and slippage through his very handling of media. Although Red House is resolutely figurative, the image is built up from a plethora of painterly techniques and processes that ultimately engender an overall sense of abstraction. Around this period, Doig began to thin his oil paint with turpentine, resulting in translucent layers of gauzy pigment that would coalesce in seductively complex surface that recalls Francis Bacon’s early canvases. “Oil paint has a kind of melting quality, really, and I love the way that even when it’s dry it’s not really fixed’, he explains. ‘Or it doesn’t seem to be fixed. The colors continue to meld together, and react with each other … Painters use oil paint kind of as a form of magic or alchemy … how it takes on a different character when it goes bad, and the way that certain colors produce different kinds of dryness’ (Peter Doig, quoted in Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, exh. cat., Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, 2013, p. 193).

    The light, translucent layers of paint used to build up the magnificent sky, landscape and figures in Red House, create a translucent backdrop with a back-lit glow reminiscent of the theater from which to situate his cabin. It is this translucent quality that Doig evokes Impressionist art historical references such as Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard and gives credence to his own aim of “[capturing] the space that is behind the eyes. It’s as if you were lying in bed trying hard to remember what something looked like. And Bonnard managed to paint that strange state. It is not a photographic space at all. It is a memory space, but one which is based on reality” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searle eds., Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 142). In so doing, Doig draws on a host of art historical references from the expressionist and meditative imagery of Edward Hopper and Edvard Munch to Impressionist Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard.

    In Red Cabin, Doig expands upon his dialogue with art history in his evocation of the transcendental color fields of Abstract Expressionism. Doig’s expressive use of color and evocative handling of paint blurs the boundaries between reality, imagination and memory. As we peer beneath the frosted surface of the painting, a psychedelic array of colors bleeds across the picture plane: a veritable aurora borealis, evoking both the hallowed glow of twilight and the chromatic splendor of dusk. Of his use of color, Doig has explained, “I often use heightened colors to create a sense of the experience or mood or feeling of being there, but it’s not a scientific process…I think the paintings always refer back to a reality that we all have experience of…We’ve all experienced the sensation of light dropping and producing strange natural effects, and I think in a way I am using these natural phenomena and amplifying them through the materiality of paint and the activity of painting” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searl, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 132).

    With Red House, Doig has powerfully coalesced the personal—memory and feeling—with the formal—art history and painterly pursuits. In doing so, he brings to the fore an image that exists on the knife’s edge of figuration and abstraction, memory and texture. Through his mastery of the medium, Doig succeeds in producing a scene which is at once familiar and surreal, ethereal and grounded. Existing in this “other space” where reality, memory and imagination are one, Doig succeeds in welcoming us into a space that is seemingly engendered from our very own mind’s eye, but is assuredly from his own.

  • Artist Biography

    Peter Doig

    Scottish • 1959

    Peter Doig is widely considered one of the most renowned contemporary figurative painters. Born in Scotland and raised in Trinidad and Canada, Doig achieved his breakthrough in 1991 upon being awarded the prestigious Whitechapel Artist Prize and receiving a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London.

    Doig draws on personal memories and source imagery in his pursuit of exploring the slippage between reality, imagination and memory through painting. The material properties of paint and expressive possibilities of color thereby serve to approximate the foggy, inarticulate sensation of remembering. His practice maintains a thin and balanced line between landscape and figure, superimposing photographic imagery and memories, both real and imagined.

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Property of a Distinguished Private Collector


Red House

signed, titled and dated ''RED HOUSE' PETER DOIG 95-96'" on the reverse
oil on canvas
78 3/4 x 98 3/8 in. (200 x 250 cm.)
Painted in 1995-1996.

$18,000,000 - 22,000,000 

Sold for $21,127,500

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017