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

Red and White Tulips

Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)
Red and White Tulips
signed 'Peploe' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 41 cm.)
Painted in the early 1920s.
J.C. Thomson.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Glasgow, 1 December 1982, lot 406, where purchased by the present owner's father.
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William Porter
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Lot Essay

‘There is so much in mere objects, flowers, leaves, jugs, what-not – colours, forms, relation – I can never see mystery coming to an end’ (S.J. Peploe, quoted in G. Peploe, S.J. Peploe 1871-1935, Edinburgh, 2000, p. 54).

Peploe is regarded as the best-known member of the Scottish Colourists, highly celebrated for his mastery of tone. Although Peploe trained as a lawyer, he showed great interest in painting from childhood, and in 1894 travelled to Paris to take classes at the Académie Julian first, and later at the Académie Colarossi. It was in the French capital that he witnessed the new avant-garde movements that were flourishing at that time, and was introduced to the work of leading artists, such as Manet, Matisse and Cézanne, who had a powerful effect on his painting.

The work of Peploe covers a wide range of genres, but he is best known for his experimentation with still life. Peploe approached still-lifes in an intellectual and pseudo-scientific way, always trying to depict the perfect example, a pursuit that became an obsession that dominated his entire career. Thus, he was very meticulous in the construction of his composition, spending not hours but days setting up the objects and rearranging them over and over again until he was certain that the balance of colour and form was good enough for the picture to be painted. Furthermore, Peploe’s nature mortes followed the seasons, and hence, he used to paint tulips in spring, roses in summer, and fruit and vegetables in winter.

Red and White Tulips is a vivid statement of modernity, in which Peploe combines forms, saturated colours and balance. It was executed in the early 1920s, when he was at the peak of his success: his work was widely exhibited, he received numerous awards, he was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Academy and the prices for his paintings increased. Still-lifes painted within this period are sublime images and are considered the most successful of all his oeuvre. The present work, an essay in harmony and balance, is the summary of his still-lifes culminating in an increasingly complex composition, with a wide range of textures and diversity of tone. The background is fully occupied by lengths of cobalt blue and white coloured fabrics and a bright red painted chair with a pink cloth draped over it. In the front, there is a wooden table on which we find some dazzling white tulips in a white and blue porcelain vase, two oranges on a white plate, some books, a fan, and a reddish cloth that breaks the verticality of the picture. Peploe was also very interested in the sense of rhythm, which is visible in the way the tulips in the vase dance with the acid yellows, red and purple flowers that are emerging from the upper right corner. All colours, either strong or softer, are perfectly balanced with the purpose of supporting the delicacy of the white tulips.

Peploe developed the style of his still-lifes through the years, taking inspiration not from Scotland but from France. This can be seen in his early works, such as Still Life with Coffee Pot, 1905, whose calm composition focused on primary tones and edged in strong black outlines, reveals the influence of Manet. Later his style evolved to emphasise texture, through the application of colours deployed by using countless long brushstrokes and the buildup of impasto, as in Tulips and Cup, 1912, a picture that links him with the work of van Gogh. Moreover, Peploe held a long-life fascination with the compositions and drawing techniques of Cézanne’s still-lifes, as evident in Dish with Apples, Ginger Jar, Brown Crock, Bottle and Chair, 1918, that bears resemblance to The Basket of Apples, painted in 1895 by the French master. Here Peploe adopted a more mature and sophisticated manner in which he abandoned the thick black lines he previously used to edge his forms and instead focused on pure, saturated tone. This technique takes inspiration from the Fauves, such as Matisse and Derain, and allowed him to not only explore his love of colour but play with the pictorial space, flattening the composition through the juxtaposition of bold areas of tone and the reduction of shadow.

People has been recognised as one of the leading Post-Impressionist artists in Britain due to his unique and distinctive style. In the course of his artistic career he managed to absorb the French avant-garde techniques without sacrificing his individuality. Sir James Caw, who was director of the National Gallery of Scotland, pointed out that ‘the exceptional quality of Peploe’s art will ensure him of a permanence and distinctive place among the more notable painters of his time’ (Sir J. Caw, quoted in Morning Post, 27 April 1936).

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