Exhibition Ended

The Scottish Colourist Series: SJ Peploe

This exhibition has now ended!

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‘One of the best exhibitions of the year’

The Scotsman

'Handsome retrospective…hung in a clever balance between themes and chronologies'

Scotland on Sunday

Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935) was the eldest and most successful of the four artists popularly known as The Scottish Colourists, along with FCB Cadell, JD Fergusson and GL Hunter. Peploe is considered by many to be the leader of the group and indeed it was his friendship with the others which bound the four together. Born in Edinburgh, Peploe lived in the Scottish capital all his life, apart from two years spent in Paris between 1910 and 1912.

Most celebrated for his beautiful still lifes, Peploe depicted a selection of props, including roses, tulips and coffee pots, placed in an infinite variety of combinations and lovingly painted in his studio. The care which Peploe lavished on his still lifes contrasts with the more spontaneous technique with which he created his stunning French and Scottish landscapes, painted en plein air from 1896. At certain periods Peploe also painted figure studies of beauty and significance, including images of his wife and their two sons.

This important exhibition brought together more than 100 of Peploe’s most significant paintings from public and private collections around the world, including highlights such as the 1905 masterpiece, The Coffee Pot, early 1920s work, Red and Pink RosesOranges and Fan, and a selection of the original objects used within Peploe’s still life arrangements.

SJ Peploe

Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935) is one of the four artists known as the Scottish Colourists, along with F. C. B. Cadell, J. D. Fergusson and G. L. Hunter. Peploe was the eldest and most successful - commercially and critically - of the group and it was his friendship with the others which bound them together. They all spent time in France early in their careers and had direct contact with French painting from Manet and the Impressionists, to Matisse and the Fauves.

Peploe is most celebrated for his still lifes. They developed in several distinct phases: the sophistication of the early 1900s; the intensely coloured and geometric oils of the pre-war years; the majestic studies of flowers dating from after the war; and a final, more rustic, approach. Of equal significance are the Scottish and French landscapes that Peploe painted throughout his career, usually en plein air, featuring the island of Iona, Kirkcudbright, Paris and Cassis, amongst other locations.

Peploe was born in Edinburgh in 1871 and lived in the city all of his life, apart from the years 1910 to 1912 which he spent in Paris with Fergusson. His first solo exhibition was held at The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh in 1903. Throughout the 1920s Peploe exhibited regularly in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. He was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1927 and died in Edinburgh in 1935.

This was the first retrospective of Peploe’s work to be held in nearly thirty years.

Early Success

Peploe grew up in Edinburgh and began his art education after attempting various careers, including working in a solicitors’ office. He enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1891, and returned there for periods until 1894. He also attended classes at the Royal Scottish Academy between 1892 and 1896. Peploe began his professional career in 1896 when he acquired a studio and began sending work to the annual exhibitions of the Royal Scottish Academy and Royal Glasgow Institute.

Throughout his career, Peploe maintained a studio practice, focussing on the genres of the still life and figure study, as well as painting landscapes en plein air. A trip to Holland developed his interest in the work of seventeenth-century Dutch Old Masters, including Frans Hals and Rembrandt. Their influence, as well as their familiarity with the 19th century French artist Edouard Manet, is apparent in the sophisticated still lifes and figure studies of the late 1890s and early 1900s.

In 1894 Peploe made the first of several painting trips to the island of Barra where he met his future wife Margaret Mackay. Two years later he painted for the first time in North Berwick, a coastal town south of Edinburgh. Using small, transportable panels, these more spontaneous works contrast with the disciplined studio paintings. In around 1900 Peploe became friends with J. D. Fergusson and in 1904 they began to paint together in France each summer.

Peploe made his name with his first solo exhibition, held at The Scottish Gallery in 1903, at which 20 works were sold.

Experimentation

In 1905 Peploe moved studio to 32 York Place, which had been built in 1795 for Henry Raeburn. His new bright and spacious surroundings had an immediate impact on Peploe’s work. He began to paint in a lighter key on larger canvases, employing a looser technique. Using a new model, Peggy Macrae, Peploe embarked on a remarkable series of figure studies.

Peploe’s outdoor practice also developed. Paintings made in Comrie, Perthshire, where his sister lived, show an awareness of the French Impressionists while trips with Fergusson to the Normandy coast, including to Étaples and Paris-Plage, resulted in energetic plein-air works, executed in light, creamy oil paints.

Peploe’s professional and personal lives flourished. He exhibited in London for the first time in 1907 and in 1909 a second successful solo exhibition was held at The Scottish Gallery. Six works were bought by the Glasgow dealer Alexander Reid, who began to promote Peploe’s work in the west of Scotland.

The year 1910 proved to be a turning-point: after a courtship of 16 years, Peploe and Margaret Mackay were married. Encouraged by Fergusson, who had moved to Paris three years earlier, the Peploes moved to France. Following the birth of their son Willy, they settled in a studio-apartment in Montparnasse, Paris. Peploe’s work underwent a dramatic change. Experiments with bold colour and vigorous handling reveal a knowledge of Fauve artists such as Matisse and Derain. Peploe exhibited at the progressive Salon d’Automne and became part of a circle which included Fergusson and his partner, Anne Estelle Rice.

The Peploes returned to Edinburgh in 1912 where they remained for the rest of their lives. Peploe’s new work was received with scorn: The Scottish Gallery refused to show it and an exhibition that Peploe organised himself in 1913 was met with disdain. However, his work was widely exhibited in London between 1912 and 1914. Just before and after the outbreak of the WWI Peploe created a remarkable series of still lifes characterised by a pronounced design, tightening of structure and flattening of depth.  

Development

Peploe was 43 years old when WWI was declared. He was called up for service but was declared unfit. He made the first of several trips to Kirckudbright in 1915, applying the lessons he had learnt in France to images of the town and the surrounding countryside. Back in the studio, Peploe applied himself to a rigorous investigation of the work of Cézanne, as seen in a series of monumental still lifes.  Following Cadell’s demobilisation in spring 1919, he and Peploe worked closely together, influencing each other’s work and even sharing props.

The end of the war seems to have inspired Peploe to begin the series of still lifes for which he is best known, and which were to occupy him until about 1923. Gone was the bravura and un-diluted colour of the pre-war paintings and in its place came a serious, methodical study of the genre. Peploe obsessively arranged and re-arranged a cast of props centred first on tulips and later on roses in Chinese porcelain vases, surrounded by objects including fans, books and fruit in compotiers, often set before draped backgrounds and depicted in a high-key palette.

In 1920 Cadell introduced Peploe to the Hebridean island of Iona; they returned virtually every summer for more than a decade. Peploe was particularly taken with the north end of the island and the views from it over to Ben More on neighbouring Mull. He also worked in Cassis in the south of France alongside Cadell in 1924 and returned by himself in 1928 and 1930. In 1928 he painted in Antibes with Hunter.

During the 1920s Peploe’s reputation grew steadily. In 1915 he had his first solo exhibition at La Societé des Beaux-Arts, Alexander Reid’s gallery in Glasgow. Throughout the 1920s there were regular exhibitions in Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as in London later in the decade, invariably accompanied by positive press and healthy sales. Peploe had a solo exhibition in New York in 1928 and was included in important group exhibitions in London and Paris. In 1924 a landscape painting was acquired for the French national collection and in 1927 Peploe was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Academy.

Maturity

Around 1923 Peploe’s work developed once more. Flowers were replaced by new props, including a treacle-glazed teapot, earthenware vases and loaves of bread. The rustic nature of Peploe’s accessories was matched by a new, low-toned palette, while his paint thickened and was applied with broader brushstrokes. The evolution from the sophisticated still-lifes of pre-1910, through the experimental design-based still-lifes of the pre-war years, to the highly disciplined still-lifes of the early 1920s was complete.

This pronounced late style can also be seen in Peploe’s Iona paintings. A crispness of light and design which had much in common with Cadell’s depictions of the island, gave way to a more passionate and summery technique. His interest in trees as subject matter became increasingly pronounced during painting trips around Scotland’s mainland, including to Boat of Garten and Rothiemurchus.

Perhaps surprisingly given his personal reticence, in 1933 Peploe joined the teaching staff of Edinburgh College of Art. Unfortunately, his last years were marred by ill-health and by the following session his teaching duties were taken over by William Gillies. A move to a new studio in 1934, the year of his last solo exhibition, held at Reid & Lefèvre in London, resulted in just two paintings. Peploe died in Edinburgh on 11 October 1935 and is buried in the family grave in the Dean Cemetery.

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