Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)
Roses and teacup
signed 'SJ Peploe' (lower right)
oil on canvas
22 x 20 in. (55.9 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1925.
J.W. Blyth Esq., Kirkcaldy.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Gleneagles, 27 August 1979, lot 649.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, Glasgow, 12 November 1998, lot 41, where purchased by the present owner.
Kirkcaldy, Art Gallery and Museum, Loan Exhibition, July - August 1928, no. 131.
Edinburgh, Aitken Dott, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by SJ Peploe, 1936, no. 67.

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Lot Essay

Roses and teacup was painted in the 1920s at the height of the artist's career and this wonderful composition is among one of his most sophisticated and beautiful. The soft tones and subtle square brush-strokes produce the superbly balanced and harmonious colour which is so typical of his finest works of this period. Throughout Peploe's life he was driven by the ambition to paint the still life, not as is often wrongly believed in a decorative sense, but as an intellectual exercise, combining the analytical and scientific process of pictorial composition. In his biography, Stanley Cursiter emphasises the requirement to fully appreciate the extent to which a form of engineering is applied to the production of the still life. 'The mathematical analogy must not be overstressed, but in the building up of a pictorial design there is an element of engineering which takes account of stresses and strains set up by the relation of lines and planes, and a sense of direction which have to be balanced and counteracted in the search for equilibrium which is the pictorial ideal'.

In a letter of 1929, Peploe wrote: 'There is so much in mere objects, flowers, leaves, jugs, what not - colours, forms, relations - I can never see mystery coming to an end'. His still lifes of the 1920s which many consider to be his most successful period, often only include these simple props of pink roses, red apples and Oriental ceramics painted in a soft light, but are the culmination of all Peploe had previously achieved. The juxtaposition of simple objects and fruit, balance in perfect colour harmony with small areas of colour or patterned backdrops, and are an orchestration not only of colour, but of pattern and form.

It was during this period that his work progressed rapidly placing him in the vanguard of British painters. In 1918 Peploe wrote to Cadell 'that he was waiting a new development - what will it be I do not yet quite know' (letter from Peploe to Cadell, 20-6-1918, National Library of Scotland). Peploe's primary concern appeared to be concentrating less on texture and tone and more on his use of colour, form and symmetry. Moving away from the more Manetesque style of his earlier period Peploe developed a way of painting more closely akin to the Fauves and especially that of Cézanne with tropical colour and delineated tone. In these still lifes broadly applied paint expresses the forms of fruit, flower blooms, vases and fans as studies of shape and colour. They are remarkable for their colouring and bold compositions and redolent of the modernism of the unfolding jazz-age.

Walter Sickert, who had been invited by Alexander Reid to write an introduction to the catalogue of the 1925 exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London, had a high opinion of these new paintings. He commented that 'in his earlier work Mr. Peploe had carried on a certain kind of delicious skill to a pitch of virtuosity that might have led to mere repetition, and his present orientation has certainly been a kind of rebirth. He has transferred his unit of attention from attenuated and exquisite gradations of tone to no less skillfully related colour. And by relating all his lines with frankness to 180 degrees of two right angles, he is able to capture and digest a wider field of vision than before. And time, as the poet sings, is an important element in the gathering of roses. And it is probably for this reason that, obviously beautiful as was Mr Peploe's earlier quality, his present one will establish itself as the more beautiful of the two.'

Peploe's works produced in the 1920s investigated the possibilities of artistic expression in terms of pure colour and flattened pictorial space. There is no deep-rooted psychological mystery to Peploe's work: Roses and teacup portrays the simple yet stunning qualities of colour and perspective in their purest form.

Roses and teacup was once in the collection of J.W. Blyth (1873-1962), an entrepreneur and major contemporary collector of the Scottish Colourists in his day. He amassed one of the most important collections including Roses (private collection, fig. 1) which includes the same mirror, and was sold in these Rooms on 23 October 2008 for £529,250. Upon his death in 1962 Blyth gave the Kirkcaldy Art Gallery 116 pictures, which still forms the basis of their collection today.

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