Peter Doig (b. 1959)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
Peter Doig (b. 1959)

Concrete Cabin

Peter Doig (b. 1959)
Concrete Cabin
signed twice, titled and dated 'PETER DOIG "CONCRETE CABIN" 1995-1996' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 59in. (129.8 x 149.9cm.)
Painted in 1995-96
Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Waterville, Maine, Colby College Museum of Art, Contemporary Painting curated by Alex Katz, June-September 2004.
Special notice
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Lot Essay

Partially concealed by the mesh of trees and foliage are the rigid lines of a building. Painted in 1995-96, Concrete Cabin is one of the celebrated group of paintings by Peter Doig showing Le Corbusier's famous Unité d'Habitation building in Briey-en-Forêt. The strange, displaced nostalgia that haunts so many of his landscape paintings has here been transferred from the isolated barns and houses of Canada to a large building in France. Doig presents the viewer with a landscape devoid of people, ensuring that the building appears all the more abandoned and therefore evocative. Meanwhile the painting still appears to owe its existence to a snapshot, to a source image that somehow invokes, despite the light-dappled forest floor, a sense of eerie nostalgia, as though this were a photograph found in an abandoned home...

Concrete Cabin appears to show a battle between two orders of existence. The brutal imposition of Le Corbusier's geometric edifice is tempered and indeed defeated by the flora that dominates the canvas. A fragment from Le Corbusier's more ordered world of ideals appears merely to be peeping through, trying desperately yet ultimately unsuccessfully to share the picture's surface with a different form of existence. The hope, the science, the optimism of Le Corbusier's social engineering project, all appear somehow ruined, strangled by a web of choking greenery.

This is a battleground of ideals, but also a battleground of types of painting. Doig has deliberately used the striking contrast between the organic forms of nature and the crisp lines of Le Corbusier's brutalist architecture as a pretext for a painterly exploration of the surface. Each area demands a different treatment and invokes a different style, a different manner of gesture. The image forms itself through contrasting styles. The surface is the clear result of Doig's own painterly adventures, his movements, his experiments, even accidents, all of which have coalesced to form this striking image. Discussing the importance of the painting itself as an object, rather than as a mere image, Doig pointed out the redundancy of overly figurative art in the modern age of photography:

'one shouldn't forget that Romantic paintings are pre-photographic, pre-film stuff. They had a different job to do for a different agenda. Since the fifties and sixties of the last century, there is no other responsibility than the space that is confined within the painting. I have to find out how the picture works, and making the thing is the most important of all, the execution to make it into a painting. I wouldn't do it otherwise, it's the act that is to be seen - when you paint something it becomes a fact. At the same time, it's a question of how much you let the material take over' (Doig, quoted in H. Fricke, 'Drifter: An Interview with Peter Doig', 2004, reproduced on DB Artmag at

It would be ingenuous, though, to claim that this highly painterly image, which veers towards abstraction through its stylised yet photographically-based execution, is a pretext and nothing more. This is not art about art for art's sake alone. Doig has deliberately selected an image and a subject matter that convey an intense mood. The dilapidated state of the Briey building, now surrounded by what appears to be thick woodland, adds an air of mystery. The act of seeing as well as the act of painting are brought to the fore by the layers of obscuring detail that hide the building itself from the viewer. At the same time, there is a sense of modern Gothic eeriness despite the light. This painting is filled with an unspecific nostalgia. As Doig has said of his search for sources, 'In some way it is trying to find images that have some sort of resonance rather than meaning' (Doig, quoted in Peter Doig: Charley's Space, exh. cat., Maastricht & Nîmes, 2003, p. 31). His pictures evoke moods, and they do so by channelling Doig's own associations. In the case of many of his earlier Canadian-themed paintings, his longing for his homeland while he was in London was evoked through his representations of photographic images from all manner of source, from other people's snapshots to films to brochures. As he has explained, 'For the most part I tried to avoid becoming involved in nostalgia, and that's why a lot of the imagery I used for these paintings were things that reminded me of my experience rather than things that were directly from my experience. People often talk about how I made pictures from family snapshots, but I've never made a single one from a family snapshot. Maybe these paintings remind people of family snapshots' (Doig, quoted in A. Searle, K. Scott & C. Grenier, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 10). However, in Concrete Cabin, his own experiences and associations when he originally saw the building are precisely what resulted in the pictures of Briey, as he recounted:

'The Le Corbusier series happened by chance. Visiting the building in Briey, seeing the way it was situated there in the forest reminded me of much more modest buildings I had painted, but I ended up painting it as well, probably in quite a different way than I had painted other structures, because the setting is grimmer. It is close to Verdun, one of those quiet but very chilling places many people died around there. When I drove across France for the first time, I drove through graveyard after graveyard after graveyard from the First World War. You see the German graveyard and then you see thousands of crosses for Canadian soldiers. Whereas other buildings had represented a family or maybe a person somehow, this building seemed to represent thousands of people. When I went to see the Le Corbusier building for the first time, I never dreamed that I would end up painting it. I went for walk in the woods on one visit, and as I was walking back I suddenly saw the building anew. I had no desire to paint it on its own, but seeing it through the trees, that is when I found it striking' (Doig, quoted in ibid., p. 16).

Thus a whole history of death, of bleakness, of disappointment is condensed into the picture. And, in a sort of reversal of the process of second-hand nostalgia that informed his Canadian landscapes, here the wider historical source of melancholy is brought into the picture. This is the result of an overwhelming feeling in the artist, deeply personal yet shared by many. In this way, Concrete Cabin conveys a far wider and far more haunting sense of numbed longing. It is infused with mystery, with stillness, with shattered hopes and a poignant, fragile beauty that extends even to the brushwork on the surface.

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