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Work by Peter Doig, never sold before, leads Bonhams Auction of 20th Century British & Irish Art
Peter Doig, Road House, 1989. Estimate: £200,000 to £300,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- An atmospheric image by Peter Doig, from the most influential time of his career, is estimated to sell for £200,000 to £300,000 in Bonhams sale of 20th Century British and Irish art on 14th November in New Bond Street.

Never previously offered for sale, ‘Road House’ is a powerful work by one of the worlds most sought after artists and presents a rare opportunity to acquire such a formative example of his work.

Matthew Bradbury, Head of 20th Century British and Irish Art at Bonhams, says of this picture: ‘“This mysterious painting raises so many questions in the mind of the viewer, inviting us to delve deeper into the circumstances behind it. It is an iconic Doig image.”

Peter Doig (born 1959) completed the picture ‘Road House’ in 1989. Born in Scotland in 1959, Doig grew up in Trinidad and Canada but it was only on his return to London in 1989, the year the present work was painted, that he came into his own as an artist.

Enrolling at The Chelsea School of Art that same year allowed him to form new ideas and establish his own artistic identity - and it was the work he produced at this time that formed the foundations for his entire future career. Over 1989-1990, he painted a series of seminal works whose implications he has continued to explore ever since. Thus, painted at such a crucial time in Doig's development, ‘Road House’ should be viewed as an important canvas within his oeuvre, building on the past and heralding the future.

An isolated house with blacked out windows sits amid silvered, willowy birches. No hint is given as to what or indeed who is inside. There is something mysterious, almost haunting, about the scene and the viewer is made at once curious. This sense of voyeuristic trespassing is a common thread in Doig's work and instils a powerful sense of intrigue. What has happened here? Who was here? And where does the story go next? In his 2007 essay 'Survey', Adrian Searle poses the question that perhaps all the years Peter spent in the early 1980s working behind the scenes at the English National Opera and painting sets in Canada "gave him a sense of dramatic and psychological distance between the spectator and the action" (Peter Doig, Phaidon, London & New York, 2007, p.83). The artist has often spoken of his search for 'atmosphere' within a painting and here in this wintry constructed landscape the unspoken narrative is palpable.

The house rendered here is consciously unidentifiable. As with much of Doig's work, there is an uncertainty of place and time – scenes can be imagined, remembered or drawn from photographic images but almost always remain detached. The artist addresses this saying "I don't think the present day is a very important thing to depict. And you don't want to make a nostalgic painting about another time that's not totally tangible. Painting becomes interesting when it becomes timeless" (Exh.Cat., Peter Doig, Tate, London, 2008, p.113). In the later ‘Concrete Cabin’ series (1990s) the building becomes more modernist and the trees encroach further interrupting our view, but the enigmatic concept that began with ‘Road House’ remains the same – a snatched view of a hidden building and a sense of ambiguity.

The composition is firmly arranged in three distinct horizontal segments. Doig employs this format in other seminal works from the period such as ‘Grasshopper’ (1990) (sold 9 November 2011, $1,426,500) and ‘Hitch-Hiker’ (1989-90). The building sits contained between two block painted panels which function here as surrogate sky and earth. Inspired by the words of a 19th Century settler in Canada's western prairies, 'Man is a grasshopper here, a mere insect making way between the enormous discs of heaven and earth'. With the active space limited to the central area of the canvas, it calls to mind the panorama of a film strip, old Westerns that conjure up iconic images of desolate plains and homesteads. The jewel-like brickwork, sinewy tree trunks and smooth expanses of brushwork describe Doig's newfound joy in the physical possibilities of paint discovered at this time.

Peter Doig's highly distinctive painting has earned him both academic and commercial international repute, as showcased by the critically acclaimed 2008 Tate exhibition and the seven figure sums regularly achieved at auction for his work. Old postcards discovered tucked into the back of the present work's stretcher demonstrate the artist's fondness for the late husband of the current owner and bear testament to their long mutual admiration.

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