The war in Europe forced Peploe and his family to return to Edinburgh and to a period of uncertainty, during which he re-assessed the problems of colour, tone and light. With the end of the war and with time passed for contemplation, Peploe painted Red Chair and Tulips and other works, a compelling and most impressive series of still lifes around 1919, poignant for their bold colouring and pronounced compositions.
Peploe had previously accentuated colour masses by utilizing a strong black outline. However, in 1919, he progressed by juxtaposing bright colours side by side ' ... the main impression gathered from his paintings is of colour, intense colour, and colour in its most colourful aspect (S. Cursiter, Peploe: An Intimate Memoir of an Artist and his Work, Edinburgh, 1947, p. 43).
Throughout Peploe's life he was driven by the ambition to paint the still life, not (as is often wrongly believed) in a decorative sense, but as an intellectual exercise combining the analytical and scientific process of pictorial composition. Stanley Cursiter emphasises the requirement to fully appreciate the extent to which a form of engineering is applied to the production of the still life. 'The arrangement of a still-life group to satisfy these conditions called for the most careful planning, and Peploe would lavish endless time and patience in arranging these groups until the shape, size and position of every note of colour reached his exacting standard ... To the layman it might seem a simple task if, for instance, in painting a still-life group a yellow tulip comes against a red background, and if in his picture the artist should decide that he would prefer a blue background for that particular tulip; all that may seem necessary is for the artist to paint the background in his picture blue instead of red, but in practice it does not work out in that way (ibid., p. 35).
In Red Chair and Tulips, Peploe found an inspiring combination of items for the composition. With tulips he was able to mirror the soft curves of the boldly coloured oranges, the contours of the chinese vase and bowl and the arching stems. The connection between the work of Peploe and Cadell was particuarly strong at this time and the simple red-painted chair in this work became a staple prop in paintings by both artist's work. The chinese vase was perhaps purchased at Whytock & Reid, decorators and furnishers in Edinburgh, where Peploe often acquired his props.
Tulips were clearly a great and considerable subject matter to Peploe. Their importance to him is clearly summed up in a letter he wrote to a friend a few months before he died, 'Flowers, how wonderful they are: I have a bunch of tulips, so gay, of so many colours; orange, pink, different pinks, a strange one - pure brick red - which is my favourite; so sensitive to warmth; the tulip with the strange hot smell which seems to stir deep memories, long forgotten cities in a desert of sand, blazing sky, sun that is a torment; mauve ones, cool and insensitve. Living their closed, unrevealing life; unexposed, but keeping their beauty of form till the very end, longest of all, dark ones, opening and closing in slow rhythm' (G. Peploe, S. J. Peploe 1871-1935, Edinburgh, 2000, p. 60).
Still life with tulips, a similar composition to the present striking example, sold Sotheby's, Hopetoun House, 24 April 2006, lot 126, for £523,200.