Still life with pink roses and an open book was painted circa 1929-1931 and is a striking portrayal of the simple yet fascinating qualities of colour and form for which Peploe is most renowned. The composition is amongst the most dynamic and beautiful of Peploe’s later studies of roses, the flower with which he is most associated. The rich colouring and geometric lines of the drapes and open pages of the book combine to create a rhythmic harmony of colour and form which is typical of his best work of this period.
Throughout his career, Peploe strove to paint the perfect still-life and it was in the 1920s when he got nearest to this ideal. His series of still-lifes can be viewed as sequential steps along a path to sought-after perfection, each highly individual. Peploe regarded them as serious works, requiring a considered intellectual effort allied to a careful hand and a sure sense of colour and pattern. It had been his first love and his first serious achievements had been in the subject. His temperament made him ideally suited to the task: His calm reasoning and thoughtful manner enabled him to make a careful analysis of the problems which face the still life painter and he set about resolving them in a series of works which include many of his most satisfying paintings.
Peploe’s contribution to the genre of still-life painting is probably without equal in British art in the 20th century. Walter Sickert, who had been invited by Alexander Reid to write an introduction to the catalogue of the 1925 exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London, had a high opinion of these new paintings. He commented, ‘In his earlier work Mr Peploe had carried on a certain kind of delicious skill to a pitch of virtuosity that might have left to mere repetition, and his present orientation has certainly been a kind of rebirth. He has transferred his unit of attention from attenuated and exquisite gradations of tone to no less skilfully related colour. And by relating all his lines with frankness to 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. 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'.
A comparable work, A Still Life of Roses circa 1931, which is in Perth Museum and Art Gallery, is identical in size and depicts an open book in a more peripheral position, its place taken by a teacup.