♦ SAMUEL JOHN PEPLOE R.S.A. (SCOTTISH 1871-1935)
STILL LIFE WITH TULIPS ON A BLACK BACKGROUND
Signed, oil on canvas
50cm x 51cm (20in x 20in)
Estimate £ 80,000-120,000
Provenance: Collection of Roy and Mairi Rankin
Exhibited: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Samuel John Peploe 1985, no.78
Note: The years immediately following the First World War were to prove creatively fruitful for Peploe. Money was thin on the ground and he now had a young family to support, so his thoughts inevitably turned to cultivating the relationships between artist, patron, dealer and collector. Had he been suffering from a lack of confidence at the time, this scenario could have led him to compromise himself artistically, but this is something the single-minded Peploe never resorted to, and instead this period saw him confidently continuing to plough an entirely modern furrow. It coincided with his election to membership of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1918; the critical and institutional recognition of his work buoying the artist further. The result is a small but distinct body of works that are the distillation of his mind-set at the time: confident but controlled, precise but powerful, and as academic as they are experimental in their exploration of materials, composition and tone.
The work offered here for sale can be pinned by its technique to this period - c.1919. Peploe had begun using an absorbent gesso ground, forcing his technique to sharpen further still and lending his colours a startling boldness and his compositions an almost faceted angularity. This work is unusual, perhaps almost unique on several scores. The square canvas and the minimalistic simplicity of the composition are refreshing and could almost be described as playful, were the overall effect not so stylised and sophisticated. The inky backdrop which, in some respects, seems to allude to his earlier, Edwardian period, is also the perfect foil for his bright tulips, lending the work a daringly modern, even art deco aesthetic. In view of this, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that Peploe was frequenting the elegant Ainslie Place abode of his friend F.C.B. Cadell at this point in time. Flowers from a hidden vase off-canvas crane their stems into the frame, a device which Peploe would develop further into increasingly large scale, elaborate compositions.
The boldness of these works was not without an element of risk, and indeed did not necessarily prove easy for his dealer Alexander Reid to move on at the time. Nonetheless, their confidence would be rewarded as they caught the attention of key collectors. Major Ion Harrison, completely dazzled by the modernity of this series of still live paintings, made the first of what would be many purchases in support of the artist, later becoming one of the most important patrons of the artist's career.
Sold for £193,250 (buyer's premium included)