Important Australian and International Fine Art
13 September 2016


born 1940

oil on canvas

76.5 x 158.0 cm

signed and dated verso: BOOTH 2005

$60,000 – 80,000

Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney (label attached verso)
Company collection, Melbourne
Deutscher and Hackett, Melbourne, 26 November 2008, lot 35
Company collection, Sydney


Peter Booth, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 21 June – 16 July 2005, cat. 7 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Catalogue text

From his auspicious debut in the ground-breaking exhibition The Field, held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968, Peter Booth has proceeded to achieve international recognition as one of the most important and influential artists of his generation. If it was his large, monochromatic abstract works which initially attracted widespread acclaim, today it is his immensely vivid and painterly figuration for which Booth is best renowned. Drawing upon epic legends of the past and prophecies for an imagined future, these dramatic, poetic images of the human spirit poignantly explore fundamental human emotions and anxieties, issues of spiritual turmoil, social alienation and the devolution of civilisation. Framed within a world both imagined and observed, Booth's vision transcends the immediate or particular to acquire a universality comparable to the musings of his greatest artistic predecessors, including Goya, Blake and Shakespeare.

Painting, 2005 (Figure in Olive Jumper) relates to the celebrated group of 'snow paintings' which Booth commenced during the winter of 1989. Preceded by a series of wet and windy landscapes, the quiet chill of the snow paintings represented a transition in Booth's oeuvre, which he parallels to the journey in Milton's epic sequence of poems, Paradise Lost (1667) to Paradise Regained (1671). More specifically however, the series was inspired by the artist's re-reading of Shakespeare's Macbeth (1606) with its chilling themes of ambition and evil bearing resonance for Booth in contemporary Western greed, and its disregard for the planet. Accordingly, in many of these works, snow throws a white curtain of silence over the charred and blackened landscape, heralding the end of man's aggression towards his fellow man and the environment, like the omen of destruction foretold by the decimation of the forest of Biran in Macbeth.

Upon first glance, the protagonist in Painting, 2005 (Figure in Olive Jumper) may be compared to various other gentle male figures in Booth's oeuvre, and for which a self portrait reading is often posited. Yet if Booth acknowledges the presence of autobiography in his work - for example, the snow motif has its origins in the artist's childhood memories of Sheffield - he does not consider these images as self-portraits. Rather the lone figure should be understood in the vein of the great literary odysseys such as Homer's Illiad and Virgil's Aeneid, where the youthful hero sets out on his journey and is tested, eventually to return home an older, sadder figure.

To focus solely upon the immediate, pessimistic impact of such works however, is to ignore the lyricism – even optimism – frequently underlying Booth's imagery; as Jason Smith elucidates, 'for Booth, the winter landscape is one of serenity and the promise of renewal. It reminds us of the resilience of nature and is a metaphor for human endurance against the physical and psychological trials of life.'1

1. Smith, J., 'Peter Booth: Human / Nature', in Peter Booth: Human / Nature, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 14 – 15