Sir William Burrell (1861-1958), the previous owner of this painting, was a Glaswegian shipping merchant and philanthropist who dedicated his life to collecting art. He acquired Hutton Castle near Berwick upon Tweed in 1916, (previously the home of Lord Tweedmouth) and set about sumptuously furnishing it with works of art and antiques. As his collection continued to grow, it soon outstripped the accommodation available in the castle and for many years much of it was widely dispersed on loan to various institutions, including the National Galleries of Scotland, England, and Wales. In 1944 Burrell presented to the city of Glasgow a great art collection, to which he added lavishly every year until the end of his life. Comprising about 8,000 objects, the Burrell collection was probably one of the largest ever assembled by one man, and certainly the largest given to a municipality.
The next owner of the present work was J.W. Blyth (1873-1962), an entrepreneur and major collector of the Scottish Colourists in his day. He amassed one of the most important collections including Roses, (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 forms the basis of their collection today.
The aspidistra, which can be seen behind the white vase, was a studio prop which appeared in many paintings of this period. The plant attracted Peploe for its colour. 'That aspidistra dominated his studio for years ... it was not a plant with obvious pictorial interest, its very intractability acted as a challenge, its sword-like blades made a definite and different pattern ... He may have regarded it as a symbol ... some reflection of his inner self' (S. Cursiter, Peploe, Edinburgh, 1947, p. 55). In the present work, the apple, orange and aspidistra leaves create variety of colour and line among the white forms of the ceramics which are moulded with such solidity whilst the books are suggestive of a degree of informal intellectuality.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the present work is that there is painted another painting by the artist on the reverse. Peploe frequently reused his canvases, and here we observe not a minor sketch, but a beautiful, finished still life.