Lot 48
  • 48

Peter Doig

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Peter Doig
  • Siegfried (bird)
  • titled and dated 2011 
  • distemper on paper
  • 200.7 by 132.1cm.; 79 by 52in.


Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2012


New York, Gallery Met, Siegfried + Poster Project, 2011


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the green background has stronger yellow undertones. Condition: The work is attached verso to the backing board in several places. This work is in very good condition. There are artist's staple holes intermittently to the outer edges with associated short tears in places. There is some slight undulation to the sheet.
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Catalogue Note

Siegfried (bird) is a lively work that provides an illuminating insight into the ways in which Peter Doig uses music and narrative to inform his creative process. Commissioned to accompany Robert Lepage’s ground breaking production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the work was originally shown in the Metropolitan Opera House in 2011 alongside three other works on paper and one large canvas. In the fluency and immediacy of form, and in the virtuosic handling of paint, this piece shares much with Doig’s best work. 

Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle is loosely based on Norse Sagas and follows the journey of an omnipotent ring across four epic operas. We join the narrative at a moment of undiluted triumph: Siegfried, an uneducated boy of the forest, has slain Fafner the giant, who had used the power of the ring to take the form of a dragon. Upon tasting the blood of this enormous brute, Siegfried finds he can understand birdsong and his victory is serenaded with stories of the powerful trophy he has won. Doig shows this scene in a dramatic tableau of flat black silhouettes: the hero is shown with leg cocked and sword thrust aloft, while a single soaring bird circles above his head.

Doig was no stranger to opera. Indeed after graduating from Goldsmiths he worked at the English National Opera for eight years whilst living in Kings Cross. He was also comfortable with themes of mythical mysticism and otherworldliness. To this end, we might consider such celebrated works as Gasthof (2002-04) or Hitch Hiker (1990) which are characterised by a dreamlike sense of the uncanny, a sense of half-forgotten memory, a mood which the critic Adrian Searle suggests "would imply a world that continued beyond the boundaries of the canvas, a place, perhaps, to which the mind as well as the eye could travel and then inhabit" (Adrian Searle and Kitty Scott, Eds., Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 55). In the present work, Doig exploits this ability to impart a sense of miscellaneous otherworldliness to refer to a specific other world – the fantastical realm of Wagner’s ring. This suffuses Siegfried (bird) with a playful mood, a knowing affection for its subject matter, and an almost childlike lively spirit.

Doig is dependent on music. It forms a backdrop to his creative process and he very rarely works without it: "I would find it very hard not to. I suppose it’s just like drinking coffee or anything that you need and use to get going. And then if you find that you’re not actually working very well, you might change the music to see if that helps" (Peter Doig quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Scottish National Gallery, Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, 2013, p. 190). In the present work, we see a rare inversion of this working method: where he would usually focus on his work and use music as accompaniment to his efforts, in this instance he starts with the music and creates art to complement it.

The Siegfried series was the perfect commission for Doig, and within the series, the present work is the most attractive. It encompasses his aptitude for summarising narratives in iconic scenes, plays on his love of music, and appropriates his otherworldly style. In the King-Arthur-esque pose of triumph, in the verdant evocative background, and in the bold silhouetted composition, this work is entirely successful in providing a sprightly fitting companion to an opera of cult popularity.