SJ Peploe and Kirkcudbright
Encouraged by his friend and fellow Colourist J. D. Fergusson to move to Paris in 1910, Peploe was to become friends with a number of Fergusson’s group – this included the artists E. A. Taylor and Jessie M. King, both of whom were working and teaching in the French capital at the time. Marrying in 1908, the Taylors settled in Kirkcudbright in the South West of Scotland, after their return from France.
Peploe was one of the most important artists to become a regular visitor to Kirkcudbright during the first part of the twentieth century. Here Peploe applied the lessons he had learnt in France – first hand exposure to Fauvism and to the continental light (as demonstrated in his painting Boats at Royan), to the Scottish landscape. It was to be a productive painting ground for the artist, who returned a number of times between 1915 and 1931.
Working in Kirkcudbright itself as well as the surrounding countryside, Peploe painted its seventeenth-century Tolbooth, various views of the town and the harbour, as well as Laggan Farm near Dalbeattie. Trees were a lifelong favourite subject for Peploe and inspired some of his best later landscapes not only of Scotland, but of Cassis and Antibes during his visits with Cadell and Hunter during the 1920s.
Kirkcudbright, Tolbooth, is thought to have been painted during Peploe’s first visit to the town. The hotly coloured oil painting depicts the view from the grounds of Kirkcudbright Academy to the back of the Tolbooth. A similar scene is depicted in Kirkcudbright, from around 1918, which shows the view of Kirkcudbright’s Tolbooth from the rear of the building, The Anchorage and the Sheriff Court. Other artists including David Gauld and Jessie M. King also painted from this vantage point.
Whilst Peploe focused specifically on elements of the town such as the Tolbooth, Kirkcudbright harbour and Castle, he also painted views overlooking the town. Kirkcudbright was painted during one of Peploe’s later visits to the town between 1929 and 1931, and depicts views west across Millburn Street, where one can see the parish church, the Sheriff Court and the Town Hall.
Sadly, it appears that the town somewhat failed to inspire Peploe during his final visits. Describing his experience as “heartbreaking” in his letters to his wife Margaret and eldest son Denis written in the late spring of 1931, Peploe longed for home:
“I am getting awfully sick of Kirkcudbright. There is absolutely nothing to paint. I have a few things that I shall try and finish; then home. And I shall be glad. I am pretty lonely here and at times get awfully depressed…I feel that I should lose my soul if I lived in this place. Lush grass and green trees, you can see nothing for leaves – no distance, nothing for the imagination. Rather English than Scottish…”
Whilst Peploe became disillusioned by the town, visiting Kirkcudbright for the last time in 1931, a remarkable and important legacy of work depicting Kirkcudbright and the surrounding area remains.