Important Australian + International Fine Art
31 August 2011


born 1940

oil on canvas

61.0 x 45.5 cm

signed and dated verso: BOOTH 1998

$30,000 - 40,000
Sold for $40,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 21 - 31 August 2011, Melbourne

Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Featuring a solitary, fleeing figure trudging resolutely through a deluge, Painting (Figure with Red Flag) 1998 belongs to the acclaimed group of wet and windy 'frozen landscapes' which Booth executed during the 1990s as a sequel to the quiet snow paintings commenced during the winter of 1989. Preceded by a series of turbulent apocalyptic scenes (see lot 30), the desolate snow and frozen landscapes 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, such compositions were 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 disregard for the planet. Accordingly, in many of these works, snow or sleet throw 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 Birnam in Macbeth.

Upon first glance, the protagonist in Painting (Figure with Red Flag) - perhaps the sole survivor of this destruction - may be compared to various other solitary male figures in Booth's oeuvre 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-referential. 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, wiser figure. For indeed, while many critics focus upon the immediate, ostensibly pessimistic impact of Booth's compositions, such readings inevitably ignore the lyricism - even optimism - frequently underlying his imagery. An alternative, more affirmative interpretation thus proposes Painting (Figure with Red Flag) as 'a reminder of the resilience of nature... a metaphor for human endurance against both 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