Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 August 2015


born 1940

oil on linen

90.0 x 60.0 cm

signed and dated verso: BOOTH 2004

Private sale

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


Peter Booth, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 21 June – 16 July 2005, cat. 3 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Catalogue text

Painting (Three Figures), painted soon after his major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, captures a typically arresting moment from the universe of Peter Booth.1 After this intense period of reflection and attention, he exhibited a collection of paintings featuring thick, lumbering single figures which Sebastian Smee described as 'stick[ing]in the mind like lumps in the throat.'2 The exception in the exhibition was this painting, a serious trio posed as if beginning an ill-fated journey.

Peter Booth's figures have a remarkably consistent dynamic. Their character is instantly comprehended, yet they inspire endless questions. What are they doing? Who are they? Where are they going? It is the way children must see men (for it is always men or monsters with Booth). This quality, being both direct and indirect, give Booth's figures their electricity.

Painting (Three Figures) was exhibited alongside Booth's winter scenes. This is a season most readily associated with the artist's landscapes, but extreme climates - snowstorms, asteroid showers, the dark dead of night - are the natural place for his figures. The crisp light blue sky is painted with icy-white highlights, while the round heads of the three men have touches of soft pink and are outlined in pale grey. In contrast, their colourful clothes are almost jewel-toned in purple, red and olive green. The motif of a man wearing a thick brown fur has featured in Booth's work since the mid-1990s, most recently reappearing in his 2015 exhibition.3 His bulk and his extravagance identifies him as one of the most solid of Booth's line-up of heavy figures. The man in the fur, the wintry chill and the competitive spirit suggest the three Brothers Karamazov as a potential literary reference for this work. Although Smee commented on this fraternal atmosphere, he emphasised the light side of Booth's absurd characters, rather than their Dostoevskian angst: 'His best work exudes a great brotherly fund of compassion, a fellow feeling for the isolated, the untethered and the thick-headed. It also allows us to laugh.'4

1. Peter Booth: Human|Nature, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 29 November 2003 - 29 February 2004
2. Smee, S., exhibition essay for Peter Booth, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 21 June - 16 July 2005
3. Peter Booth | Painting 2012 - 2015, Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne, 2 - 27 June 2015
4. Op. cit.