Red House Figures II, executed in 1996, is an atmospheric study of a detail of Peter Doig's large painting Red House which featured in the recent Tate retrospective of his work. In this picture, created using oilsticks, Doig has limited his palette in order to give the work an appearance that echoes the Old Master drawings in sanguine of so many past masters, lending it a strange timelessness that adds to the ambience of the scene itself. The various figures are somehow disjointed, as indeed is the narrative of which they form a part, one lone figure wending his way away from the small mysterious group to the right.
Doig's pictures often owe their existence to found images, be it in the form of paintings, snapshots, films stills or brochures and magazines. The painting Red House shows some clear descent, for instance, from Edvard Munchs celebrated picture Red Virginia Creeper. At the same time, the wintry atmosphere appears to pay tribute to the bird trap scenes by Pieter Breughel and his contemporaries. Meanwhile, the figure in the foreground recalls a host of art historical precedents, from Millets sower to Van Goghs self-portrait walking along and even the winter sports images that have filled so many of Doig's own celebrated paintings, revealing the rich heritage of his pictures.
The bulk of the figure to the left implies modern winter-wear, adding to the deliberately Canadian coldness of the scene. This Canadian content, overtly visible in the painting to which Red House Figures II relates, is here implied but nonetheless suffuses the work. Doig has deftly translated the sense of cold through the deliberate restraint in leaving some of the sheet in reserve, creating a telling contrast with the gnarled branches of the trees, deftly rendered through a succession of vigorous, jerky yet swirling strokes. Doig was living in London when he created this picture and had recently visited Canada, his home, some years earlier. On returning to London, he found that his own snapshots did not capture the sense of the place that he sought, and in fact went to Canada House to look for source material in the tourist publications. These provided springboards for his pictures, mingling with his own feelings, his own experiences and his own artistic quest to introduce a folksy and hand-made quality into his pictures, in contrast to the restrain and control so evident in the works of so many of his contemporaries. "So many of the paintings are of Canada," Doig explained. "But in a way I want it to be more of an imaginary place-- a place thats somehow a wilderness" (Doig, quoted in Peter Doig, Tate Britian, exh.cat., J. Nesbitt (ed.), London, 2008, p. 11). In Red House Figures II, this wilderness means that the scope of the picture ranges from Doigs own experiences as an artist, as a Canadian, and-- in our modern, post-existential world-- as a human being.