LONDON - I remember going to the National Galleries of Scotland in 2013, when Peter Doig had a major retrospective there. The galleries were full with Doig’s depictions of mysterious characters and magical landscapes, his delicate washes of paint contributing to that ‘cinematic’ or ‘dreamlike’ effect he is so well known for. In that exhibition one of the highlights was Metropolitain (House of Pictures), which depicts the lonely figure of a bohemian-looking gentleman looking at a painting that hangs against a backdrop of green mountains. When looking at that impressive picture, one could not help but wonder what it was that the figure was looking at, what was he doing in that exotic landscape given his clearly European appearance.
One of the things in Doig’s work that adds to the feeling of being in a dream or a movie is the fact that the artist uses similar motifs in different compositions, thus creating a sense of continuity, as if each canvas was a different still in a movie. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that the artist actually runs a film club in his studio in the island of Trinidad where he has lived since 2002. The work we are using on the cover of our catalogue for the Contemporary Art Day Sale this February could be a different still in Doig’s Metropolitain series. In a smaller scale, Cold Blooded from 2003 depicts the same character, a lone figure that looks at a bright orange canvas that seems to float before him.
There are two main starting points for this series of pictures; one is Honoré Daumier’s work The Print Collector from 1863–65, which Doig had seen at The Art Institute in Chicago. The artist took inspiration for his character from this small canvas, fascinated by the idea of painting a picture about someone looking at pictures. Another inspiration was one of his own canvases; House of Pictures. The artist started his canvas in London, but finished it once he had moved to Trinidad, and it features a lonely figure in a similar pose to that of our gentleman. In his canvases Doig often looks at photographs as an inspiration for his paintings, and films often provide aid in terms of composition and framing. This is the case in Cold Blooded – and the rest of the pictures in the Metropolitain series – where the artist reinterpreted a scene from the movie The Woman in the Window. Directed by Fritz Lang in 1944, the movie tells the story of Professor Richard Wanley, an academic who falls in love with a young femme fatale after seeing a portrait of her in a shop window.
It is always fascinating to research the works we have in each new season, but with a painting like this one, where there are so many layers of potential meanings and readings, it is even more so. This is indeed a great opportunity to see one Doig’s movie-esque canvases, don’t forget to come and see it in the flesh in our galleries!
Marina Ruiz Colomer is a specialist in the Contemporary Art department, Sotheby’s London.