PETER DOIG | The Architect's Home in the Ravine
- Peter Doig
- The Architect's Home in the Ravine
- signed, titled and dated 1991 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
Sotheby’s, London, 26 June 2002, Lot 4
Saatchi Collection, London
Sotheby’s, New York, 15 May 2007, Lot 11
Private Collection, USA
Christie’s, London, 13 February 2013, Lot 9
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Christie’s, London, 11 February 2016, Lot 18 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Bremen, Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Peter Doig: Homely, June - August 1996, p. 7, illustrated in colour
London, Saatchi Gallery, The Triumph of Painting, January - July 2005, p. 39, illustrated in colour
Beijing, Farschou Foundation, Peter Doig: Cabins and Canoes: The Unreasonable Silence of the World, March - June 2017, p. 18 and pp. 56-61, illustrated in colour
Charles Saatchi and Patricia Ellis, 100: The Work That Changed British Art, London 2003, p. 109, no. 51, illustrated in colour
Adrian Searle, Kitty Scott and Catherine Grenier, Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 76, illustrated in colour
Edward Booth-Clibborn, Ed., The History of the Saatchi Gallery, London 2011, p. 550, illustrated in colour
Richard Shiff and Catherine Lampert, Peter Doig, New York 2011, p. 22, illustrated in colour
Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery, Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, August - November 2013, pp. 14-15, illustrated in colour
This work marks an important milestone within Doig’s career. In 1991, only a year after graduating from his Master’s degree at Chelsea, he was awarded the highly prestigious Whitechapel Artist’s award. This early recognition spurred a period of intense painterly production and the resultant works are some of the most celebrated of his entire career. Doig views the small number of large format paintings created during this time as the thematic matrix for his subsequent oeuvre and several are now held in permanent museum collections: Ski Jacket (1994) in the Tate, The House that Jacques Built (1991) in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and Blotter (1993) in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It should be noted that the present painting was one of only four works that Doig chose to be included in the 1991 show at the Whitechapel Gallery, alongside Rosedale, Iron Hill, and The Young Bean Farmer (all 1991). It was further selected for his 1996 exhibition at the Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst in Bremen, Germany, which was his first major institutional show.
The Architect’s Home in the Ravine shows the home of Eberhard Zeidler, situated in the wealthy Toronto suburb of Rosedale. However, whilst this is the stated subject, the eerie mood and the preclusive nature of the voyeuristic composition can be better traced to a sensory experience that Doig had in Briey-en-Fôret in North-East France in the summer of 1991. Doig was visiting the area as part of a team of artists and architects working on the restoration of a celebrated building by architect Le Corbusier – the Untié d’Habitation – which had been derelict since 1973. Whilst there, he was struck by the view of the modernist building from the dense surrounding forest. It was a deeply affecting scene of contrast and tension: between the organic and the man made, between the elusive background and the obstructive foreground, and between the dank immediate forest, and the distant utopia of bright white concrete. The building appeared just out of reach; at once threatening and inviting, comforting and obscure. Le Corbusier’s building at Briey is referenced in the present work, in the coloured panels that bedeck the front of the house, only just visible through the thickets of forest, and Doig woud refer back to the building repeatedly and in more explicit terms in the celebrated Concrete Cabin paintings that were executed between 1992 and 1996. The Architect’s Home in the Ravine is at once their direct precursor and paradigm of the distinct mood that they convey. It is not a work that takes the Le Corbusier building as its explicit subject matter, but one that is wholly informed by Doig’s memory of that place.
This conflation of physical experience and emotive recollection is typical of Doig. He is an artist of oneiric atmosphere whose works are as much meditations on the concept of memory itself as musings on previous personal experience. His works are nostalgic without being specifically reminiscent; they appear dream-like, existing at a remove from consciousness and beyond any facile comprehension. This effect is achieved in part through Doig’s working method. He blunts the personal edge to his memories by filtering them through layers of visual stimuli and refracts his individual recollections by projecting them through an art historical lens. He uses photographic source material, cinematic film stills, vintage postcards, and art historical referents as props; subverted and rearranged in his paintings so as to act out the scenes of his memory.
Doig employs a number of technical painterly devices that enhance this dreamlike mood. Indeed, The Architect’s Home in the Ravine can be regarded as the culmination of his investigations into screening; the apex of his experimentation with profusions of paint lining the surface of the picture plane and forcing the viewer to peer beyond into an illusory world of his own creation. Every part of the composition is tracked in eddies and tendrils of matte white paint. Some swirl in asinine loops, entwining branches and ensnaring boughs, others jag straight across the canvas, blurring with the linear articulations of the modernist architecture beyond and skewing our perception of depth. The lines are thick, plastered on with a palette knife, and the effect is mesmeric, pulling the eye around the composition, precluding a clear and immediate interpretation, and beguiling the viewer. In Doig’s own words: “instead of painting the façade of a building and then shrouding it in trees, I would paint the architecture through the foliage, so that the picture would push itself up to your eye. I thought that was a much more real way of looking at things, because that is the way that the eye looks: you are constantly looking through the things, seeing the foreground and the background at the same time” (Peter Doig cited in: Exh. Cat., Beijing, Farschou Foundation, Peter Doig: Cabins and Canoes: The Unreasonable Silence of the World, 2017, p. 55). Foreground and background are reversed through this complex compositional method; we are implored to peer into the painting, to examine its interior rather than just observe its labyrinthine surface.
Doig has added to this engulfing effect with veils of scattered snow, punctuating the composition in myriad tiny dots. Snow is another trademark of the artist; its icy shrouds add layers to his compositions, further his characteristic wintry mood, and exacerbate the disorienting nature of his scenes. In the later 1990s, Doig turned to bright open ski scenes that were characterised by clarity. However, at the time of the creation of the present work, he used snow to create a sense of muffled silence and a lurid almost hallucinogenic effect: “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 cited in: Paul Bonaventura, ‘A Hunter in the Snow’, Artefactum, No. 9, 1994, p. 12).
If Doig used photographic source material to give his memories and recollections physical form, then he used art historical precedent to inform the majesty and splendour of his painterly style. There are myriad references to art history in this painting. As in all of Doig’s best work, post-Impressionist precedent is important. We are reminded of Edvard Munch, whose landscapes had huge influence on the ways in which the artist delineated trees and undergrowth, and are particularly put in mind of Pierre Bonnard, whose works captured the same otherworldly mood as The Architect’s Home in the Ravine. In Doig’s opinion, Bonnard’s work “captures 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 state at all. It is a memory space but one which is based on reality” (Peter Doig cited in: Adrian Searle, Kitty Scott and Catherine Grenier, Peter Doig, London 2007, p. 142). The seeming flatness of this composition and the curling articulations of its vegetation are somewhat redolent of Henri Matisse, who also used similarly saturated and unnatural colours in his woodland scenes. However, in the conception of the present work, Doig was working most directly in the tradition of Paul Cézanne, who used similar compositional devices in order to create a sense of recession and depth. Speaking about works such as the present, Doig said: “I had intended these paintings to be about the act of looking through… I purposely painted the manmade buildings through the trees rather than paint them first, then paint a screen of trees or nature on top. I had seen Cézanne do this a lot – the light of architecture glimpsed” (Peter Doig cited in: Exh. Cat., Beijing, Farschou Foundation, op. cit., p. 149).
Beyond the post-Impressionists, Gustav Klimt is an interesting reference point; in the present work we are reminded of Klimt in the density of the trees, and also in the jewel-like details of colour, refracted through the forest and glinting off the house below. Moreover, in his use of veils of snow, shifting across the composition in pointillist sheets, Doig even looks back as far as Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the sixteenth-century Dutch master. Doig took direct influence from works like The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow: “when you look at [Bruegel’s painting,] the snow is almost all the same size, it’s not perspectival, it’s this notion of the ‘idea’ of snow, which I like. It becomes like a screen, making you look through it” (Peter Doig cited in, Richard Schiff, ‘Incidents’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, Peter Doig, 2008, p. 29).
There is a North American mood to much of Doig’s best work; a sense of awe at the vastness of the wilderness and the majesty of the natural world. In this regard, Doig’s work of this period recalls the Group of Seven; a school of early twentieth-century Toronto landscape painters who were renowned for their intrepid expeditions based on the steadfast belief that a distinct Canadian aesthetic could be developed through direct contact with nature. We are perhaps reminded of the landscapes of Franklin Carmichael, and particularly the ghostly trees of LeMoine FitzGerald, who painted woodland scenes of comparable mood. The other notable North American influence on the present work is of course Jackson Pollock; the only other artist capable of creating works of such swirling labyrinthine compositions, albeit through wholly different means.
The Architect’s Home in the Ravine hovers between abstraction and representation. It shows Doig as the ultimate artist of heady atmosphere. Through a conflation of photographic source material and emotional experience, an acute awareness of gaze and points of view, and a reliance on art historical precedent from the Sixteenth Century through to the present day, Doig created a painting that is wholly mesmeric, charged with a sense of abstract nostalgia, and entirely redolent of redolence itself. The Architect’s Home in the Ravine embodies a nostalgic feeling that exists just beyond the realm of specific memory; that moment of dream, half remembered as we blink awake. It is the ultimate realisation of Doig’s concept of a memory space and the paradigm of his painterly skill.