Cursiter, Stanley, Peploe, An Intimate Memoir of an Artist and of His Work, Thomas Nelson, London, 1947.
Honeyman, T. J., Three Scottish Colourists: S. J. Peploe, F. C. B. Cadell, Leslie Hunter, Thomas Nelson, London, 1950.
Long, Philip & Elizabeth Cumming, The Scottish Colourists, 1900–1930: F. C. B. Cadell, J. D. Fergusson, G. L. Hunter, S. J. Peploe, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2000.
Peploe, Guy, S. J. Peploe 1871–1935, Mainstream, Edinburgh & London, 2000.
Still life, c. 1904, is painted on a thin wood panel support in a size Peploe would repeatedly return to in the years before and after this painting was made.1There were at least five other works from 1898 to 1911 painted in this way. While Still life, c. 1904, was most likely completed on an easel in the artist’s studio, it is possible he used this size repeatedly for the reason that it could be accommodated in the lid of a paintbox and so he was able to paint anywhere. Peploe was known to have at least two paintboxes that he used in this way. See Guy Peploe, S. J. Peploe, 1871–1935, Mainstream, Edinburgh & London, 2000, p. 19. In this instance he made use of both sides of the support, painting another still life on the reverse (see below). This may have been done for reasons of economy, especially as wood panel was one of the costlier supports available to artists.2Leslie Carlyle, The Artist’s Assistant: Oil Painting Instruction Manuals and Handbooks in Britain 1800–1900 with Reference to Selected Eighteenth-Century Sources, Archetype, London, 2001, p.187. Peploe was also known to commonly reuse his canvas supports.
The painting on the front is the only one of the two that is signed, suggesting Peploe considered this the primary composition. It was the second to be painted, as the paint around the edges passes on top of the paint from the composition on the back. Peploe painted still lifes throughout his career, maintaining a focus on the genre throughout dramatic changes in his style. The two still lifes share several common elements, including the same lighting and scale, a dramatic dark background and similar yellow and orange-red fruit, connecting them to the same studio setting, and likely close creation time. The glassware and silverware differ between the two, though the props from each composition were repeatedly used by the artist and can be found in other paintings from around the same period.
The entire composition was painted in single sitting, as the paint is applied wet-in-wet. Peploe used a fluid, medium-rich paint that he manipulated to loosely meld different coloured paints on the support (see below). Peploe was careful not to overwork the paint and compared painting with oil to dancing, his grandson Guy Peploe noting there ‘would always be tracks on his studio floor, like a fast bowler’s run-up, where the artist had moved back to inspect and forward to paint’.3Peploe, p. 28. Peploe’s friend and fellow artist Stanley Cursiter speculated that he achieved his paint consistency by using a ‘high proportion of stand oil with some addition of varnish’ to paint from a tube.4Stanley Cursiter, Peploe, an Intimate Memoir of an Artist and His Work, Thomas Nelson, London 1947, p. 18. The easy, free-flowing brushwork belies the protracted planning behind Peploe’s still lifes. His brother-in-law Frederick Porter wrote of Peploe’s process of developing a composition:
All his still life[s] were carefully arranged and considered before he put them on canvas. When this was done – it often took several days to accomplish – he seemed to have absorbed everything necessary for transmitting them to canvas. The result was a canvas covered without any apparent effort.5Philip Long & Elizabeth Cumming, The Scottish Colourists, 1900–1930: F. C. B. Cadell, J. D. Fergusson, G. L. Hunter, S. J. Peploe, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2000, p. 16.
Peploe’s technique and palette would move through various distinct phases in successive years, but a near-obsessive preoccupation with colour and tonal relationships is evident throughout his oeuvre. While the free and loose paint application may seem at odds with the meticulous care and consideration Peploe invested in his compositions, it was essential to achieve his desired effect. As stated by Porter
The whole canvas had to be finished in one painting so as to preserve complete continuity. If, in his judgement, it was not right then the whole painting was scraped out and painted again.6Long & Cumming, p. 16.
Caitlin Breare, Conservator of Paintings, National Gallery of Victoria