- Peter Doig
- signed twice, titled and dated 1995 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 200 by 275cm.
- 78 3/4 by 108 1/4 in.
Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Sale: Christie's, New York, Contemporary Art, 17 May 2001, Lot 346
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts; London, Victoria Miro Gallery, Peter Doig Blotter, 1995, p. 49, illustrated
Gera, Kunstsammlung; Bremen, Neues Museum Weserburg, Sammlung Volkman Zegt: Faustrecht und Freiheit, 1996, illustrated
"'I often paint scenes with snow because snow somehow has this effect of drawing you inwards and is frequently used to suggest retrospection and nostalgia and make-believe.'" (Peter Doig, Paul Bonaventura, 'A Hunter in the Snow', Artefactum, no. 9, 1994, p.12)
Uniquely emblematic of the artist's painterly praxis, Peter Doig's landscapes of snow constitute the most majestic and captivating from his mercurial oeuvre. Monumental in scale and eliciting a velvety texture seemingly imbued with the very texture of snow itself, Bellevarde represents a consummate example of this paramount theme skilfully channelled and envisaged via a wholly post-modern methodology. Portraying the base of the Bellevarde peak within the Val d'Isère ski resort in the French Alps – the Face de Bellevarde was the location of the men's downhill race as part of the 1992 Winter Olympics – the present work simultaneously evidences the vicissitudes of Doig's biography, whilst thematizing the power of memory and sensory experience in a painterly evocation of epic landscape and the winter resort. Having grown up in Canada, Doig spent much of his youth in the great outdoors in all seasons, thus becoming an avid skier. It is this, melded with his incredible technique, passion for paint, and great knowledge of art history which have brought a completely fresh and invigorated perspective to landscape painting.
Executed in 1995, Bellevarde emerged at the epicentre of an extraordinarily successful decade for the artist. After graduating from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1990, Doig won the prestigious Whitechapel Artist Prize, which thereafter led to a solo exhibition at the gallery in 1991, and being short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1994. Ten years later, Doig's success has continued unabated, having been included in the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2005, the 2006 Whitney Biennial and Tate Triennial, and a 2008 retrospective at Tate Britain. Today, Doig is universally recognised as an unerring champion of the relevance of oil painting in our increasingly media-saturated visual world.
Belonging to the very incipit of Doig's sustained engagement with the painterly possibilities of skiing subjects, the present work was forged shortly after his paradigmatic painting, Ski Jacket, now in the collection of the Tate. As such, Bellevarde announces the moment the winter sport become a leitmotif in Doig's practice. For Ski Jacket, the subject matter was arrived at almost by chance. Finding a black and white source image in a Toronto newspaper of a busy Japanese ski resort, Doig was drawn to the narrow image for its similarity to a Japanese scroll. He enlarged, abstracted and replicated the grainy newsprint reproduction and found the subject to be an ideal vehicle with which to explore the abstract possibilities of paint. The success of Ski Jacket, directly followed up by Bellevarde, thereafter led to a sustained and comprehensive elaboration of the theme in 1996 via a dedicated series of paintings, exhibited as a culmination in the exhibition Freestyle at the Victoria Miro Gallery. While works from the series, such as Orange Sunshine or Telemarker (Pas de Chevres), focus on a single skier or snowboarder within the foreground scene, in Bellevarde Doig evidences a continuation of the concerns initiated in Ski Jacket, wherein countless diminutive figures are painted in miniature through "little flicks of colour" (the artist cited in: Adrian Searle, Kitty Scott & Catherine Grenier, Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 14). Further to the dispersed human presence within both works, Bellevarde is also imbued with the same vast expansiveness as though viewed from an impossibly distant perspective. As Doig recalls, "When I made the first skiing paintings, they were made as a reaction to things I had made previously, paintings with a proliferation of matter on the surface of the canvas. I had wanted to get away from that device of always 'looking through', whether it be trees, branches or snow - in to the painting. It could have become manneristic. I wanted to make things more open" (Ibid., p. 135). Bellevarde is the consummate example of this sense of the 'open'. Forming a panoramic expanse led by the serpentine winding of the wide ski-run, the lack of horizon and flattened perspective of this work collapses and condenses space, enveloping the viewer's field of view in a dichotomous tension between distance and proximity. Doig has said of these works, "I used the way that you perceive things when you are in the mountains; for example when you are feeling warm in an otherwise cold environment, and how the light is often extreme and accentuated by wearing different coloured goggles. I've used that as a way of accentuating the colours in the paintings, to the extent that they appear seemingly psychedelic" (Ibid. p. 140). The consuming and iridescent whiteness of Doig's canvas is punctuated with streaks and jewel-like flecks of pink, yellow and green. As though seen through "rose-tinted goggles" Bellevarde delivers a heightened feeling and experience of the mountains (Ibid.). Through the replication of colour, texture and weight of snow in paint, as well as the unique light of its chromatic depiction, Doig skilfully delivers a visual impression imbued with a marked sense of mood and memory - the essence of "being there"(Ibid., p.132).
Although Doig himself has cited Claude Monet as a direct inspiration for this series, through his classic Impressionist depictions of landscapes in various atmospheres, light and seasons, these works vary dramatically from his predecessor in their attempts to directly translate the experience through scale and texture. Whereas Monet famously worked en plein air and attempted to depict a direct and unmediated empirical translation of the scene, Doig paints from a visual archive of pictures and photographs culled from newspapers, postcards, film and album covers. As a result memory plays a pivotal role in conveying his own lived experience: the awesome grandeur of the landscape and close tactility of snow. Indeed, physical distance from his subject is essential; by borrowing from reproductions the artist is able to manipulate expectation and reaction, frequently conjuring a poignant sense of imminent revelation via this dramatic vocabulary. Bellevarde is rooted in the epic panorama of film, while also belying a rather home-made visual culture informed by the amateur family snapshot or video. Nonetheless, the triumphant conceit of Doig's method generates a nostalgia that photography alone could never capture.
As with other masterworks in Doig's canon, his re-interpretation of photography and film defines this painting as a fundamentally contemporary and Post Modern enterprise that knowingly appropriates the recognition of a pre-existing visual language. Pivotally, Doig's post-modern approach is founded in the encompassing wealth of art historical evocations at his disposal. Meshing together contemporary imagery with the lessons of art history, Bellevarde illustrates Doig's tremendous capacity to absorb and re-interpret the canonical and epic genre of landscape painting. With Bellevarde, the sheer physicality of painted surface combined with overtly contemporary imagery signals his intention to continue the genre of landscape painting while substantially changing its representational and symbolic values. Alongside Monet, Doig draws aesthetic parallels with a host of art historical precedent: from the Post Impressionists and Paul Gauguin, to Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch and the German Expressionists, to the early twentieth century Canadian Group of Seven and Tom Thomson to Jackson Pollock's physicality of paint and the visceral colouristic assault of Mark Rothko. However, Doig never reverts to parody or direct quotation of these departed masters, rather the inherent character of his obsession with paint and his ceaseless drive to redevelop the parameters of visual expression place him as the clear heir to this formidable line.
Bellevarde distils a whole range of ideas and influences which extend from his own memory and youth, through his art historical predecessors, to contemporary film and photography with which he is thoroughly engaged, to create an image of simply stunning beauty on the one hand and profound complexity on the other. Like all of Peter Doig's great works, Bellevarde stands as a truly multidimensional and masterful meditation on the theme of epic landscape as refracted through the prism of art history, memory, and the photographic lens of modern technology.