'It was in 1921 or 1922 that I first became interested in the work of the three Scottish Colourists. The first exhibition of Peploe's which I saw was in Alex Reid & Lefevre's, West George Street, Glasgow. Mr Peploe at that time had an exhibition of flower pictures. I had never seen anything in art similar to these pictures, and I did not understand them. They really startled me for, to my eyes, they were so 'ultra-modern' ... and their brilliant colour against equally strong draperies, were at that time beyond my comprehension' (Ion R. Harrison commenting in T.J. Honeyman, Three Scottish Colourists, 1950, p. 119). Major Ion Harrison, the previous owner of Still Life with Roses was a hugely important patron of all four of the Colourists. Taking advice from his great friend Dr Tom Honeyman, Director of Glasgow's Art Gallery, Harrison assembled an extraordinary range of pictures and became close friends with the artists.
Still Life with Roses, yellow background was painted in the first half of the 1920s and is contemporary with the best examples of Peploe's still life paintings. The blue and white porcelain, lacquer fans, books and brightly contrasting fabric drapes link the series of still lifes of this period. They are recognisable for their saturated primary colours and are more complex in arrangement than earlier examples. Around 1919 Peploe painted a series of striking still lifes of roses, remarkable for their bright colouring and bold compositions and evocative of the modernism of the unfolding age of Jazz. Peploe had used colour at its highest pitch since his return to Scotland from a period in France in 1913. At first he painted bold, colourful still lifes and landscapes in which primary tones were emphasised by strong black outlines and the juxtaposition of bright colours placed side by side was used to convey intensity; 'the main impression gathered from his 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' (S. Cursiter, Peploe: An intimate memoir of an Artist and his work, 1946, p. 43). By this period in his career Peploe was an established artist with a fully rounded sense of his artistic aims. His paintings were confidently bold in execution and composition, rhythmic in arrangement and vibrant in colour. The paintings of roses mark the epitome of his still life paintings of this period in which the angles created by the drooping stems of the roses and the edges of books and closed fans are contrasted by the softer voluptuous curves of fruit and the contours of porcelain. Further angles are created by the edge of the tablecloth, and drapes add a further element of contrast and divide the pictorial space into a series of shapes flooded with pure colour.
The years spanning the war had been formative years for Peploe in which he experimented, studied and concentrated on the problems of colour, form and lighting. He emerged from this period, fully formed, 'he was like a coiled spring awaiting merely the opportunity to expand'. He embarked upon his most productive artistic phase, his popularity having fully recovered from a period of depression in the years 1910-1913 when his style began to change from the more fluid transformation. After a handful of collectors recognised the merit of his later canvases, with their definite pattern and bright colours, others were close to follow and Peploe's reputation was once again restored. In 1917, his status was heightened further by his election to the Royal Scottish Academy, which brought his more reticent collectors the official recognition they needed to start to buy up the still lifes through his agent Aitken Dott in Edinburgh.
More than any other member of the Colourists Peploe was influenced by the radical work of the Cubists and Fauves and he developed a way of painting more closely akin to that of Cézanne with his bold colour and delineated tone. The influence was clearly manifested in the saturated colours and flattened perspectives of his still lifes from this period. 'A simplification of modelling with a consequent emphasis on pattern. Both the patterns made by the shapes of the objects in these paintings - jug, fruit, bowl, chair - and the flat decorative patterns of the pieces of cloth used as drapes in the background combine to create an overall abstract design, which is the true subject of the painting' (R. Billcliffe, The Scottish Colourists, 1989, p. 43). Still Life with Roses, yellow background portrays the simple but stunning qualities of colour and form in perhaps its most purist by Peploe.