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.
In 1920 his fellow colourist and closest friend F.C.B. Cadell invited Peploe to join him to paint on Iona. Cadell had been painting there for some time and owned a cottage on the island. Peploe was inspired by Iona and returned from the island with renewed purpose, the environment having generated immediate development of his art. His routine and output developed in two directions: the freely expressive Iona landscapes painted during the summer; and the carefully constructed still-life and flower-pieces painted in his studio.
As the 1920s progressed studies of roses, in particular, began to appear, forming the first of a series of rose pictures which he continued to produce throughout the years, changing as his style developed, but invariably fine. His flower pictures followed the seasons, tulips in spring, roses in summer, fruit and vegetables in winter.
In his biography, Stanley Cursiter notes, 'When Peploe selected his flowers or fruit from a painter's point of view he presented a new problem to the Edinburgh florists. They did not always understand when he rejected a lemon, for its form, or a pear for its colour, and he remained unmoved by the protestations of ripeness or flavour' (S. Cursiter, Peploe, London, 1947, p. 55).
This was just the start of the process. According to Peploe's niece, he would often spend not hours but painstaking weeks setting up compositions in his studio, substituting objects and re-assessing their position in the set-up until the harmony of colour and balance of composition was exactly how he wanted it to be. He would enter his studio in the morning and view the arrayed still-life afresh, gently adjusting, adding and subtracting until he was satisfied. Every consideration was made, the contours of the tablecloth, the hues of the fruit and angles of the selected blooms of roses in a favourite vase. Only after he was certain that he had reached the desired effect, would he begin upon his painting.
In the introduction to Peploe's memorial exhibition catalogue, held in 1937 at the McLellan Galleries, E.A. Taylor, a fellow artist and friend, wrote, 'Even be Peploe's motif a single rose, he gave to it by his significant design and colour a more enduring bloom than any yet produced by the superficial formula of academic cosmetics' (E.A. Taylor (intro.), exhibition catalogue, S.J. Peploe memorial exhibition, Glasgow, McLellan Galleries, 1937).