Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2003
Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery; Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Peter Doig, No Foreign Lands, August 2013 - June 2014, p. 124, illustrated in colour
Fascinated by the slippages and mediations of memory, Doig was heavily influenced by the Post-Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard, who famously worked from memory alone. Doig describes what Bonnard crystallises in his painting as “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 in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, in: Adrian Searle, Ed., Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 142). Like a Lynchian dream sequence or Werner Herzog panoramic, many of Doig’s figurations provide fertile ground for the chimerical intrigue that weaves its way into our unconscious. The girl in the painting is unidentified in its title, and thus becomes a figure onto which the viewer can project their interpretation of the work. Is she frightened and isolated, sinister and ghostlike, unreachable and unapologetically adolescent? Certainly all of these elements are present in Doig’s work – for instance in Canoe Lake (1997), Pelican (2004), and Jetty (1994) respectively – and it is his specific genius that he can conjure all three emotions without committing to any one in particular.
The tension generated between the representational subject matter of the figure and the abstract style that characterises the branches that surround her is a central tenet of Doig’s oeuvre. There is a clear cinematic aspect to the work; however, when viewed from a wider formalist perspective, it appears far more compositionally concerned with abstract concepts of chromatic contrast. Excluding the chaste delineations of the central figure, the sheet is covered by passages of colour that appear more experimental than representational. Exemplifying a quality that Doig has sought to perfect throughout his career, that “painting should evolve itself into a type of abstraction, to slowly dissipate into something else”, Study for 'Girl in White with Trees' is a superb example of Doig’s oeuvre (Peter Doig quoted in: ‘Peter Doig & Chris Ofili: Artists in Conversation’, BOMB, Fall 2007, online resource). A virtuosic and mysterious dreamscape, it distorts a familial memory, blending art historical reference with a keen compositional instinct to create a work that is as beguiling as it is beautiful.
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