'There is so much in mere objects, flowers, leaves, jugs, what not colours, forms, relation - I can never see mystery coming to an end.' (letter written by Samuel John Peploe, quoted in Stanley Cursiter, Peploe; An Intimate Memoir of an Artist and of His Work, 1947, p.73).
Combining bold colours, assured handling and a controlled composition of forms, Still Life of Roses in a Blue and White Vase is an exceptional example of Peploe's mature style. Painted in the 1920s at the height of his career when he produced some of his most accomplished, considered and vibrant still life paintings. While the years during and prior to the war had been a period of intensive focus, preparation, study and development, by the early 1920s he was, as Stanley Cursiter phrases it, 'like a coiled spring awaiting merely the opportunity to expand.' He embarked on his most productive artistic phase and his paintings of roses mark the epitome of his still life paintings of this period. The pictures that he produced are vivid statements of modernity, elevating the art-form of still-life painting to new heights where colour and form are paramount.
The present work is one of a series that Peploe produced at this time, in which the sinuous contours of blue and white china vases and bowls is contrasted with bright accents of orange fruits and richly coloured roses. Contemporary examples include Red and Pink Roses, Oranges and Fan (sold Sotheby's, London, 30 September 2009, lot 55) and Still Life with Tulips (sold Sotheby's, Hopetoun House, 24 April 2006, lot 126). This series is linked by their complex compositional arrangements, bold primary colours and the continual recurrence of the white books, the blue and white porcelain, the lacquer fan and the contrasting fabric drapes. In these works the sharp geometric angles of the petals, drapery, books and fan are set in pleasing contrast with the subtle curves of the ripe fruit and Japanese ceramics. It was during this stage that Peploe abandoned the thick black outlines he had earlier employed, and the interior space instead becomes flattened, shapes of pure colour are juxtaposed, each pigment becoming more vibrant and rich through the association. It was also at this time that Peploe ceased to varnish his pictures, allowing, as in the present work, the pure colour of the paint to show through.
For Peploe, the execution of the perfect still life was an obsession which dominated his career. It was for him both an aesthetic and intellectual exercise and he would spend hours contemplating the arrangement of his still lifes, carefully considering and tweaking each element, before finally putting brush to canvas. The artist's carefully thought-out arrangement of the composition contrasts with the expressive and painterly qualities of the final creation, and it is in this combination that Peploe's brilliance lies. While the stylistic elements present in his still lifes developed and changed over time, some of the qualities which People found most important can be traced back to his earliest still life paintings. Flowers in a Silver Jug (1904, The Fleming Collection), for example, is earthy and subtle, but the almost monochromatic quality of the work is an experiment with the non-naturalistic possibilities of tone. The painterly brush strokes and thick impasto, suggest an early interest and awareness of the physical qualities of the medium.
Throughout the 1920s, Peploe was not only at the height of his technical prowess but was also experiencing the peak of his critical success. He exhibited widely, experienced a marked increase in the sale of his pictures and received several awards. Following from a dip in his popularity when his style was undergoing a fluid transformation, People's reputation was restored when a small group of collectors began to recognise the merit in the bold patterning and rich colour of his later works, and others soon followed suit. Alongside his Colourist contemporaries Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell and George Leslie Hunter, Peploe exhibited twenty-six works at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1923. Having been elected an associate in 1918, he was awarded full membership to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1927. In the following year he held an exhibition at the C.W. Kraushaar Galleries in New York. Also in 1928, Kirkcaldy Art Gallery, following renovations which nearly doubled its size, allocated an entire room exclusively to Peploe's work.