Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)
Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)

Still Life of Roses and Apples

Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)
Still Life of Roses and Apples
signed 'Peploe' (lower left) 
oil on canvas
18 x 16 in. (45.8 x 40.5 cm.) 
Painted in the early 1920s.
with Richard Green Gallery, London, where purchased by the present owner, circa 1988.

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William Porter
William Porter

Lot Essay

‘These are the things I love – freshness of colour, movement, life’
-S.J. Peploe

Peploe's still lifes changed and developed throughout his career, and his desire for perfection in his work was obtained through his vigorous approach to the genre. It was his approach to the 'colours, forms, relation' that he was able to adapt and extend, developing his still lifes into more sophisticated and subtle works.

In 1925, the Leicester Galleries held an exhibition of the four Scottish Colourists in London for which Walter Richard Sickert wrote the preface to the catalogue, his note about Peploe read: ‘Mr Peploe has carried 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 re-birth. He has transferred his unit of attention from attenuated and exquisite graduations of tone to no less skilfully related colour. And by relating all his lines with frankness to the 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. His volte-face has been an intellectual progress. 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.’

One of a series of floral still lifes that Peploe painted throughout the 1920s, Still Life of Roses and Apples features one of the most iconic motifs of the artist’s career: a bouquet of roses. As the 1920s progressed studies of roses, as well as tulips, began to dominate Peploe’s work. In 1920, Peploe’s great friend, the fellow colourist painter, F.C.B. Cadell had invited him to stay on Iona, a small island off the West coast of Scotland. Peploe fell in love with this rural retreat and returned year after year, painting the windswept landscape and rolling Atlantic sea. From this point onwards, Peploe’s work fell into two distinct groups: the expressive landscapes of Iona and the carefully constructed still lifes that he painted in his studio, of which Still Life of Roses and Apples is one of the finest examples.

The reverse of Still Life of Roses and Apples illustrates the close working relationship between the two artists. The second boldly rendered composition features Cadell’s red chair that became an iconic and important feature of this period. Painted red by Cadell to look like lacquer, the red chair is synonymous of interior design of the time and was most probably bought from Whytock and Reid, who were known for their quality craftsmanship. The chair forms the focus of many of both Peploe’s and Cadell’s interior paintings and portraits of this period appearing under a multitude of guises; their sitters position themselves on it in formal portraits; it becomes a prop in still life painting and we see it in the background of several interior scenes adding a shot of vivid colour, lifting the composition. Left empty in a room, often in the foreground, it forms a focal point of Cadell’s most renowned imagery. Indeed, both Peploe and Cadell managed to elevate the importance of the red chair and gave it the status of a commissioned portrait sitter. 

Like Cadell, Peploe was inspired by the innovations of his French contemporaries; he had spent time in France in 1913 and would have been influenced by the non-naturalistic colour and simplification of form favoured by the Fauves. The impact of seeing these paintings is clearly visible in Peploe’s Still Life of Roses and Apples. The bright use of saturated colours and painterly marks in the background paired with the linear qualities in the foreground composition and table top are resonant of artists such as Matisse. The jet-black ribbon and fan is reminiscent of Manet’s strong use of black outlines and serves to flatten the composition as influenced by the Asian art and Japanese prints that had inspired the Impressionists. The format of Still Life of Roses and Apples employs the Japanese technique of using the frame to crop the composition. Peploe reused similar motifs, colours and arrangements in other works of the period.

As much importance is given to colour as it is to form and composition in Peploe’s oeuvre. In the present work, the delicately depicted floral arrangement in the upper canvas, juxtaposed with the brilliantly bold, bright fruit in the centre, and strong contours of the folded cloth, create a uniformed confident aesthetic. The strong contrasts of the blue and orange drapery are typical of his work in the early 1920s. Here his bold use of colour beautifully compliments the other elements of the still life. The pink rose practically blooms out the canvas, lifted by the pairing of indanthrene blues in the cascading cloth, the vase and soft shadowing. Each area of colour is perfectly balanced, placed against a background or given a shadow in its complementary, to give the most dramatic tonal contrast. 

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