Peploe was a passionate and serious artist who devoted himself to work but also had powerful influence on a surprisingly wide circle of people, including many artists of the next generation. Born in Edinburgh and educated at the Collegate School in Charlotte Square, he had good academic ability but no interest in the professions, preferring to walk, sail or sketch.
By 1893 he was enrolled for classes at the Trustees Academy (the forerunner to Edinburgh School of Art) and the following year was in Paris at the Académie Julian under the neo classicist William Bourgereau and later at the Académie Colarossi. A long period of study nurtured his natural ability and helped him perfect an early style based on Dutch masters, particularly Franz Hals, and Edouard Manet. He began a lifelong habit of taking painting trips to northern France and the Western Isles, accompanied by J D Fergusson whom he had met in Paris. He was successful in exhibiting his work and regularly submitted paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Glasgow Institute and the Society of Scottish Artists.
His first one-man show was held at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh in 1903. By 1906 his earlier still life and figure paintings, characterised by dark backgrounds, gave way to paler colours, such as greys and pinks. This was in part due to a move to a new lighter studio in the East end of Edinburgh at York Place, from his previous west-end base at Shandwick Place. His second exhibition in 1909 was successful but his eyes were turning to Paris and the next year, he moved there with his new wife, Margaret MacKay, whom he had met on a painting trip to the Isle of Barra in 1894. France liberated his palette and on his return to Edinburgh in 1912 with dozens of paintings and a young son, Willie, the new work proved to be much too advanced for the city’s audience and his original dealer. Unperturbed, Peploe put on his own show at the New Gallery in Shandwick Place, where the Society of Eight (including Cadell, John Lavery and James Paterson) had their inaugural exhibition in the same year.
For the next fifteen years Peploe retained a brilliant palette, evolving a mature style containing elements of Cezanne and Matisse. By the late 1920s, Peploe’s sophisticated language of delineated form and a new looser and more full-bodied technique was fully formed. Still Lifes were his most characteristic subjects during this period. Peploe also began to use an absorbent gesso ground to give increased reflective qualities, demanding that paint be worked speedily. He now restricted his props – blue and white porcelain vases, a fan, a few books for example, and his niece recalled how he “would arrange and rearrange these groups [of objects] for perhaps three days before he was satisfied that the balance and composition were perfect, then he would paint them quite rapidly”. The summary approach, looser brushwork, muted colours, unvarnished surfaces and chalky effects characterise these masterpieces from Peploe’s last decade.
‘Still Life of Apples and Pears’ is a typical example of Peploe’s mature work, in which he has withdrawn from the Colourism of artists such as Matisse and Derain and instead concentrated on subtle colour combinations and the importance on composition within still life. As he said in 1929 “There is so much in mere objects, flowers, leaves, jugs, what not – colours, forms, relation – I can never see mystery coming to an end.”
Text sources: Samuel Peploe (Guy Peploe,); the Dictionary of Scottish Painters, (Halsby & Harris) and The Scottish Colourists, (Philip Long).