2 More

The Old Man's Boat and the Old Man's Dog

The Old Man's Boat and the Old Man's Dog
signed, titled and dated 'Eric Fischl 1982 The OLD MAN'S BOAT & The OLD MAN'S DOG' (on the reverse)
oil on linen
84 x 84 in. (213.4 x 213.4 cm.)
Painted in 1982.
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Larry Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
Saatchi Collection, London
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1990
K. Levin, Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection, Vol. 4, London, 1984, n.p., no. 19 (illustrated).
Art in America, November 1984, p. 3 (illustrated on the front cover).
G. Marzorati, "I Will Not Think Bad Thoughts: An Interview with Eric Fischl," Parkett, no. 5, 1985, p. 29 (illustrated).
P. Schjeldahl, Eric Fischl, New York, 1988, p. 24, no. 47 (illustrated).
A. Danto, R. Enright, and S. Martin, Eric Fischl: 1970-2000, New York, 2000, pp. 92-93 (illustrated).
Eric Fischl, exh. cat., ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, 1991, pp. 18 and 21 (illustrated).
D. Hopkins, After Modern Art, Oxford, 2000, pp. 214-215 (illustrated).
E. Booth-Clibborn, The History of the Saatchi Collection, London, 2011, p. 187 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1983 Biennial Exhibition, March-May 1983, p. 24.
Saskatchewan, Mendel Art Gallery; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum; Kunsthalle Basel; London, Institute of Contemporary Arts; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Eric Fischl: Paintings, February 1985-May 1986, p. 41 (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Individuals: A Selected History, 1945-1986, December 1986-January 1988, p. 254 (illustrated).
New York, Haunch of Venison, Your History is Not our History, March-May 2010, p. 33 (illustrated).
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Eric Fischl Early Paintings, May-June 2011, pp. 28-29, no. 5 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

Apivotal painting in the seismic shift towards figuration that took place in the 1980s, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog is a major canvas from a series inspired by a trip Eric Fischl took to St. Tropez. In this epic work, Fischl eschewed the dominant modes of Abstraction and Conceptual deconstruction of his contemporaries, and introduced the nude figure back into the canon. The resulting tension between the public and the private infuses these representative paintings with a timeliness that also captured the social and cultural change of this era. A master of creating psychological drama from seemingly innocuous scenes, Fischl evokes the unspoken tension of painters like Edward Hopper, with critic James Cahill noting that works such as this “bear dispiriting witness to an ultra-refined social performance in which narcissism and rivalry are sublimated into a delicate, mannered set of relations” (J. Cahill, “Eric Fischl at Victoria Miro,” Art in America, 2014). Featured on the cover of Art in America in November 1984, Fischl’s tableau is pushed to its extremes through his clever use of complex social and visual cues that make the viewer wary of what might be happening when they turn away.

Typical of Fischl’s work from the period, this imposing square canvas pits a sense of foreboding directly against sun-drenched leisure activities. The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog depicts five figures and a lively Dalmatian on the top deck of a pleasure craft. Despite the warmth of the foreground, the waves behind the boat are rising in a cerulean crest to meet the darkening gray clouds. Two young men in the background, nude and sporting buzzcuts and tanned forearms, crawl to the left as if looking for something together. A brunette woman, her naked back to us, lounges on a blue blanket or pad while another woman with a shock of wind-tossed blonde hair sits on the edge of the deck in an orange life vest and white bikini. Just right of center, next to the dog and the woman on the mat, a nude man leans back, one leg bent. He takes a slow swig from a can and meets the viewer’s gaze. The directness of his stare leads one to wonder if this is the titular ‘old man’ and if the nearby hound is his. Furthermore, the manner in which Fischl paints this figure and casts him as the only character aware of the audience’s gaze instills a certain sense of apprehension into the entire tableau. "There are times in looking at his [Fischl's] work when you feel you are less a viewer than a private investigator, wondering about the motivations and actions of the characters in the paintings. What you end up activating is something like a forensic gaze. While the paintings aren't exactly crime scenes, they do seem to be places where damage has either been done or is about to be done. This is a painted world where an observant and critical questioning is a necessary attitude" (R. Enright, quoted in Eric Fischl, 1970-2000, New York, 2000, p. 66). Though everything seems to be right in the world, one cannot help but feel something sinister is on its way.

Fischl was the leading member of a group of artists who, in the 1980s, forged a new path by returning to figuration—a genre of painting that many critics had long declared dead. Along with artists such as David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, Fischl harnessed the raucous energy of the era’s club and music scene and produced a new, vital form of art that captured the powerful excitement of New York’s downtown art world. This “neo-expressionism” resulted in bold, dynamic, and often socially or politically subversive paintings, infused with a sense of dynamism that has been absent from art for a generation. “Due to their figurative nature, these works appear easily accessible, yet in fact address the dilemma of establishing fixed meaning in the postmodern era,” curator Sabine M. Eckmann has said. “They provoke us to reconsider the position, capacity and role of figuration at the end of the 20th century” (S. Eckmann, quoted by L. Otten, “American Art of the 1980s,” The Source, December 8, 2003, online: [accessed: 03⁄30/2022]).

The present work also leverages the artist’s interest in photography as he sourced characters from his archive of captured images of the sunbathing vacationers of St. Tropez. These usually modest Europeans had set aside their cares and lay nude in the sunny climate of Southern France amid droves of families, friends, and peers all doing the same. Fischl was particularly struck by the way in which the private and public merged in this act, a fact that he reminisced on, saying "In 1980, in St. Tropez, the experience of being there was so overwhelming that I couldn't believe what I was looking at. I had no idea how I felt about it. I was so compelled by what I was seeing, I don't know whether it was a joke, or whether it was wonderful, or horrifying, or stupid, or everything. I was seeing people on the beach who were naked, who were behaving in a totally socialized way. So that their body language was social language rather than private language. But they were naked, which was the most private space. And so that contradiction was compelling in and of itself" (E. Fischl, quoted in A.M. Homes, “Eric Fischl by A.M. Homes,” Bomb, no. 50, Winter 1994).

Though at the moment the nudity was perfectly natural and the actions were commonplace, frozen by the artist’s brush in oil the figures begin to seem exposed. Their fleshy bodies, tinged with latent sensuality, are juxtaposed to create a visual conversation and turn the eye back on those viewing the goings-on. Thrust into the more reserved confines of the Western art world, they create a tension that forces us to confront our own reticence toward the topics of sexuality and the nude.

More from 21st Century Evening Sale

View All
View All