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Samuel John Peploe ModBrit Lot 17
Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)
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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BRITISH COLLECTION
Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)

Red and pink roses, oranges and fan

Details
Samuel John Peploe, R.S.A. (1871-1935)
Red and pink roses, oranges and fan
signed 'Peploe' (lower left)
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1925.
Provenance
with Ewan Mundy Fine Art, Glasgow.
Private collection.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 30 September 2009, lot 55.
with Richard Green, London.
Exhibited

Lot Essay

‘The main impression gathered from [Peploe’s] paintings is of colour, intense colour, and colour in its most colourful aspect. One is conscious of material selected for inclusion in still-life groups because of its colourful effect; reds, blues, and yellows are unmistakably red, blue and yellow; the neutrals are black and white’ (S. Cursiter, Peploe: An intimate memoir of an artist and his work, London, 1947, p. 43) .

With dazzling, jewel-like colours, Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan is one of the finest and most elegant examples of Samuel John Peploe’s exhaustive exploration of the still life subject. Painted in the early 1920s, when the artist was at the height of his career, this painting displays the quintessential characteristics of Peploe’s carefully considered and meticulous approach to the genre. Comprising of an array of Peploe’s most favoured objects – oranges, books, a fan and a bouquet of roses displayed in a Chinese porcelain vase – the composition balances in a state of perfect harmony, each component positioned with the utmost care and precision to ensure a sophisticated pictorial poise. Swathes of flaming orange and yellow erupt from the background of the painting, enlivening the roses that stand in front, the delicate pink of their petals radiating from the richly coloured composition. Cobalt blue and emerald green dominate the foreground, entering into a vibrant chromatic union with the colours of the background. Considered by many to be the greatest works of Peploe’s career, the still lifes of the 1920s saw form and colour merge in perfect accord to create symphonic compositions. Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan encapsulates Peploe’s unique and distinctive style as he broke away from tradition, occupying a position at the forefront of Modernism in Britain.

The still-life was a subject that dominated Peploe’s oeuvre. Since 1912, when the artist returned from Paris to Edinburgh, he had sought to paint the perfect still life. As Stanley Cursiter, the artist’s biographer, has written, ‘Peploe had faith in his purpose: he knew what he was trying to do, and he realised that somewhere along the path he was pursuing lay the goal he visualised – a harmony of shape and colour… In his studio he surrounded himself with bright colours, lengths of material, flat boards distempered or painted in pure strong tints, the walls white-washed and the room kept as light as possible’ (S. Cursiter, Peploe: An intimate memoir of an artist and his work, London, 1947, p. 32). Using a small selection of his favoured, carefully chosen objects – books, fruit, Chinese vases, flowers and fans – Peploe focused on the formal characteristics of a still life, analysing relationships of colour, light, mass and space. Peploe demonstrated his total preoccupation with the genre in a letter he wrote to another painter in 1929: ‘There is so much in mere objects, flowers, leaves, jugs, what-not – colours, forms, relation – I can never see the mystery coming to an end’ (G. Peploe, S.J. Peploe, Farnham, 2012, pp.112-113).

The formal aspect of the still-life that most captivated Peploe was colour. During a spell living in Paris in the early 1910s Peploe had been immersed in the vibrant European avant-garde, bearing witness to the radical artistic developments forged by artists such as Henri Matisse, as well as gaining inspiration from revered Post-Impressionist masters, in particular Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne. Witnessing the ways in which these artists liberated colour from its conventionally descriptive role, using it to create boldly expressionistic and radical works, Peploe began to infuse his own painting with saturated, bold colour. During the First World War, he continued to use bold, primary tones, yet he encased these with distinctive black outlines. After this period of intense experimentation however, he moved away from this pictorial technique, expunging his still lifes of the outlines and instead using strong juxtapositions of unmodulated colour to construct the composition.

Bursting with rich, saturated tones, Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan demonstrates Peploe’s innate love of colour. In 1918, Peploe moved into a studio at 54, Shandwick Place in Edinburgh, a large bright space that he painted white. This served to reflect and heighten the brightness of the coloured props he surrounded himself with. To emphasise the vibrancy of the colours of the paint, Peploe’s canvases of this period were primed with a white gesso, creating a creating a clean base to display the pigments. In the present work, Peploe has employed a combination of chromatic harmonies in accordance with colour theory: the flame-coloured, orb-like oranges complement the deep, cobalt blue tablecloth on which they sit; likewise the blush pink and red tones of the roses work in harmony with the yellow background drapery behind them. Stanley Cursiter’s words aptly reflect the richness of the colour that can be seen in a work such as Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan: ‘the main impression gathered from [Peploe’s] paintings is of colour, intense colour, and colour in its most colourful aspect. One is conscious of material selected for inclusion in still-life groups because of its colourful effect; reds, blues, and yellows are unmistakably red, blue and yellow; the neutrals are black and white’ (Cursiter, op. cit., p. 43).

Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan is a lesson in compositional harmony. What can seem to be spontaneous placement of everyday objects is in fact, a carefully considered construction. Guy Peploe characterises the artist’s approach to perfecting his compositions as, ‘intense, sometimes pseudo-scientific investigation…with tireless, almost obsessive energy [he] tried to construct the significant out of the common place’ (G. Peploe, op. cit., p. 119). Peploe utilises a system of binaries, the rigid stems of the roses are set at pleasing contrasting diagonals. These lines are mimicked in the placement of the straight folds of the drapery in the background and the fan and the white books on the table. The picture is prevented from becoming overwhelmingly angular with the inclusion of the curved porcelain bowl, vase and scattered spherical fruit.

At the time he painted Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan, Peploe was enjoying increasing critical acclaim and financial success. In 1924, his work was shown in France for the first time at an exhibition in Paris; the show was met with success and the French state purchased one of his works. In an introduction to the catalogue for the 1925 exhibition of Peploe’s works at the Leicester Galleries in London, Walter Richard Sickert wrote: ‘[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 rebirth’ (Sickert, quoted in T.J. Honeyman, Three Scottish Colourists: Peploe, Cadell, Hunter, London, 1950, p. 62). His paintings were selling well and for relatively high prices, and this new found comfortability no doubt contributed to the high quality of the still lifes he produced at this time, as is the case with Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan. By the mid to late 1920s, Peploe was recognised as one of the leading exponents of a new and distinctive form of Scottish Modernism, which was met with success across Europe and America. At time of his death in 1935, one critic wrote that, ‘it was with the introduction of post-impressionism by S. J. Peploe and Leslie Hunter that Scottish art came into something like its own’ (T. Normand, The Modern Scot: Modernism and Nationalism in Scottish Art, 1928-1955, Aldershot, 2000, p. 50).

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