Lot 24
  • 24

Peter Doig

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Peter Doig
  • Figure in Mountain Landscape (Cave Painting)
  • signed, titled and dated '99 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 164.9 by 120.4cm.
  • 64 3/4 by 47 1/4 in.


Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot, Paris
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Figure in Mountain Landscape (Cave Painting), 1999, is an important version of what has become one of Peter Doig's best known images, in which the solitary figure of the artist at the extremes of nature stands as a metaphor for Doig's unique intellectual position on the threshold between figuration and abstraction. An icon of Doig's oeuvre, another version of this famous image of the cowled artist hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and another is included in the current, highly-acclaimed travelling mid-career retrospective which started at Tate Britain, London.

The basis for the title of the present work is an eponymous painting by Francis Bacon housed in the collection of the Kunsthalle, Zürich. Much like Bacon, Doig incorporates the use of photography into his painterly process. In this case, the source image is taken from a 1935 Joachim Gauthier photograph of the Canadian painter Franklin Carmichael, painting at Grace Lake, Northern Ontario. Carmichael was one of the Group of Seven who in the first half of the Twentieth Century scoured the vast landscape of their Canadian homeland in a literal painterly voyage of discovery. Seeking to paint where no man had set foot before, they took the 'plein-air' ideals of Claude Monet and the Impressionists to new and adventurous extremes, both in terms of the inhospitable terrain that they explored and the stylistic evolution that this engendered. Although born in Scotland, Peter Doig spent much of his early life in Canada and the vast deserted landscapes of that country and its artistic heritage had a profound effect on his artistic vision.

Like the early nineteenth-century landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, the human presence in the shape of the artist is here belittled by the expanse of landscape which surrounds him. Dressed in the simplest of hooded tops to protect himself from the elements, in Gauthier's photograph Carmichael becomes a magical, almost shaman-like, figure. In Doig's rendition, the sense of isolation is rendered all the more powerful by the vertical cropping of the image and the vertiginous and unassailable mountain face that rises in the background, its perspective flattened into abstraction. This sense of a compressed spatial plane is emphasised further by the overhanging copper-coloured form in the top left corner, which could be read as the entrance to the cave mentioned in the title, from within which the viewer looks out. The figure of the artist, perched on long, dryly painted streaks of long grasses evocative of Francis Bacon's 1950s landscapes, is entirely alone in an abstract wilderness absent of recognisable topographical landmarks.

Doig is resolutely a studio-based painter who relies on an incredibly diverse range of source material. Unlike Carmichael who painted and repainted the landscape from nature, Doig paints and repaints a photograph of someone painting a landscape from nature. This further remove from the subject is conceptually important for Doig's practice of painting. There is no solace in the landscape; there is no sense of Doig's feeling for the place. Much like the Francis Bacon painting which inspired it, this painting is as much about abstract colour and form as it is about the subject of its title. The golden yellow backdrop is carefully composed using a combination of delicately thinned oils that cascade down the surface in places, juxtaposed with the smoother application achieved with the palette knife. The way that the background colours breathe through each other and glow is reminiscent of Mark Rothko's feathered forms and the way that the shapes are built in planes bears echoes of Clyfford Still. The treatment of the figure, by comparison, owes more to contemporary visual culture and the psychedelic palette is consonant with the image manipulation symptomatic of our digital age. Doig has a keen interest in film making and runs a film studio in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he lives and works. The highly chromatic, almost Day-Glo palette employed here to depict the clothes, entirely at odds with the natural landscape, is reminiscent of the highly produced music videos that burgeoned throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Meanwhile the artist's sketchbook reveals an abstraction redolent of Sigmar Polke's 1970s abstract paintings, achieved using a thick trail of pigment applied directly from the tube.

Acutely aware of the processes of painting, Doig uses this image of the pioneering artist to sum up his own unique position in the history of the genre as a standard-bearer stationed on the threshold between figuration and abstraction. Figure in Mountain Landscape (Cave Painting) was executed at a time in the late 1990s when his artistic compatriots in London were receiving great international attention and acclaim for a conceptually based, process orientated art which was in direct opposition to his own. Highly influenced by the grand tradition of landscape painters from Edvard Munch and Gustave Klimt to Gerhard Richter, Doig filters these art-historical inspirations through his passion for film, photography and contemporary visual culture to create a painterly vocabulary which is uniquely his own. Almost like a self portrait, this painting represents an important turning point in his career when he found an iconic image for his own existence, one which has become increasingly influential on a new school of international painting.