My favourite painting: Peter Randall-Page

'It is fresh and beautifully observed'

The Fish, La Pileta Cave, about 20,000bc, 5ft long, Province of Malaga, Andalucia, Spain

Peter Randall-Page says:
I decided on the fish drawing from Cueva de la Pileta because it is fresh and beautifully observed and because it was made by someone, probably not dissimilar to me, more than 20,000 years ago and I saw it, by torchlight, last week.

Peter Randall-Page is a sculptor and artist. His work can be seen in ‘On Form: Sculpture in Stone’ at Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire, until July 8; in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, until August 19; and at Castle Drogo, Devon, until November 4.

John McEwen comments on The Fish:
La Pileta Cave is still in the family of the farmer José Lobato, who discovered it in 1905. It’s in the limestone mountains of the Serranía de Ronda, 10 minutes by car from Ronda, near the village of Benaoján. Lobato was looking for the home of the local bat colony (still 4,000 strong) as a source of valuable fertiliser, a hazardous operation in those days that required ropes. When he finally entered the cave, he found evidence of, he thought, Moorish occupation (8th–15th century). The drawings and markings earned the cavernous complex the name Los Letreros: The Signs.

Later, Col Willoughby Cole Verner, a keen ornithologist, visited the district. He had no informed anthropological interest, but his guide’s chatter of Los Letreros aroused his curiosity. Consequently, during the winters of 1909–10 and 1910–11, he explored the cavern. He wrote up his findings, Letters from Wilder Spain, in the Saturday Review.

They were read by two distinguished anthropologists, Abbe Henri Breuil (d. 1961) and Hugo Obermaier (d. 1946), and, in 1912, they conducted a two-month examination with Verner. The historical revelation was that this naturalistic Late Old Stone Age art (25,000bc–15,000bc) was clearly linked to similar, better-known examples in northern Spain and southern France, proving previously unknown lines of cultural communication.

The most famous drawing, the fish – probably a halibut – is at the end of the longest gallery (380 yards) in the deepest part of the cave, now known as the Fish Chamber. It was discovered between the World Wars by Lobato’s son, who also discovered the more convenient entrance currently used for the best and most intimate experience of prehistoric paintings visitable today.

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