This elegant painting can be dated with some good deal of accuracy to a very specific period in S.J. Peploe’s career, as it represents a successful but short lived style within his practice, and embodies an important transition in the development of his work. By the mid-1900s Peploe had completed his studies at the Trustee’s Academy, Edinburgh; the Academie Julian; and the Academie Colarossi, Paris. He was by now regularly exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute, and had been given his first one man show at the Scottish Gallery in 1901.
His early style was heavily influenced by the Dutch Old Masters, focused on dark and sumptuously painted still lives. By 1905 we find him departing from this early mode and his work lightens to a sophisticated and more delicate spectrum of greys, whites and pinks. Some historians posit that this was due to his having moved into a bright new studio at York Place around this time. He was also painting en plein air more frequently on regular trips to Northern France and the Hebrides alongside J.D. Fergusson, which potentially enhanced the importance of light in his work. Further, the elegant palettes of the dominating art superstars of the time, Whistler and Sargent, possibly also led Peploe to move away from his dark and traditional tonal range. Indeed his friend and peer F.C.B. Cadell was experimenting with a similarly refined take on portraiture in this modern manner at around the same time.
His model is not formally posed; rather captured at leisure in her home, casually reading her paper while perched on the arm of a chair which is itself strewn with an un-styled tangle of fabric. The loose brushwork is by turns subtly daubed and dashingly emphatic. J D Fergusson once commented of the pair’s early work: ‘Manet and Monet were the painters that fixed our direction.’ Here we see Peploe embracing Manet’s truth to modern life with his domestic setting featuring a fashionable young woman, and Monet’s freedom of handling and sense of the fleeting and transitory. Though admired and commercially successful, Peploe would only paint in this manner for a few short years, before making the move fulltime to Paris in 1909 where he was to fully embrace the style (and accompanying controversy) of the Fauves.
This work was clearly favoured by his close friends and supporters, and has the notable provenance of having passed through the hands of the eminent Scottish dealer Alexander Reid, and the collection of the artist’s own brother, Willy Peploe.
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