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Much-loved artist’s light touch brings welcome glimmer of hope

Virtual exhibition marks 150th anniversary of Samuel Peploe

With their vibrant paintwork and luminous settings, they are the perfect pick-me-up for the dark days of winter and these travel-restricted times.

Now seems the perfect moment to gaze wistfully at far-flung, colourful places – the Hebrides, the Cote d’Azur – tantalisingly out or reach for now, but beautifully captured by one of Scotland’s best-loved artists.

A virtual exhibition to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Peploe on Wednesday (27 January) is about to launch, featuring work from the collection managed by OnFife (Fife Cultural Trust).

With 46 of the artist’s paintings, Kirkcaldy Art Gallery has the biggest group of Peploes outside National Galleries Scotland – thanks, principally, to the superb collection of Kirkcaldy linoleum manufacturer J W Blyth, the maternal grandfather of journalist and broadcaster Michael Portillo. A significant part of the Blyth Collection was bought by Kirkcaldy Town Council in the 1963.

Kirkcaldy Gallery is currently closed, but OnFife will be creating a buzz on social media. Front-of-house gallery staff have been filmed talking about their favourite Peploe paintings in the collection, and the artist’s enduring appeal. The virtual exhibition is on the national Art UK website.

Although Peploe's work has reached as much as £820,000 at auction, and his pictures adorn our national institutions, prints of his paintings brighten the walls of countless homes the length and breadth of the country.

The artist – part of a group of painters known as the Scottish Colourists – would have derived quiet satisfaction from this timely celebration of his work, as people long for brighter times.

Edinburgh-born Peploe once wrote in a letter to his wife, Margaret: “Coming out of my studio today at two, what a freshness in the air … a real feeling of spring. What is there like these first days of spring? The freshness after the rain, the huge mountain clouds, the feeling of life."

For Michael Portillo, a visit to his grandfather’s art-filled home in Kirkcaldy was one of the great excitements of his childhood. He recalls: “There were paintings everywhere. Art was John Blyth’s passion. There were more Peploes than works by the other Colourists and the landscapes featured either the cold blue light of Scotland or the fierce brightness of Royan and Cassis.

“Each of the Colourists gave my grandfather enormous pleasure. He would steal home from the factory to spend his lunch hour contemplating his most recent purchase. Writing in the catalogue of Peploe’s memorial exhibition in 1936, he wrote that Peploe’s pictures are ‘the ardent outpourings of a great heart and a great mind – to live with them is a sheer delight’.”

Someone who has lived with the paintings all his life is the artist’s grandson, Guy Peploe, who is a director at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh.

Although he was born many years after Samuel Peploe’s death, Guy was acutely aware of his grandfather’s achievements growing up. He reflects: “By all accounts, Peploe was a very private, shy family man so to have known him as a grandson would have been very special. This said, all artists have to have a steely core of self-belief, just to be able to face the studio every day.”

“Kirkcaldy has a wonderful holding of his work and my favourite is Palm Trees, Antibes. What better an image to contemplate in the current dark days of winter and restriction? It emanates heat, light –a different place and time, sure – but also the sense of possibility and beauty in prospect.”

Exhibition curator Lesley Lettice says the display offers inspiration in our present circumstances: “We are all living under tight travel restrictions and are probably walking the same few routes for our daily exercise, seeing the same views and landmarks and perhaps feeling a bit underwhelmed by the familiar.

“Peploe often painted the same landscape over and over again, from different angles, at different times of day. Those small changes in colour, light and composition never failed to delight him. His work can inspire us take pleasure in the little things and try to look at them with new eyes each day.”

Explore the exhibition here 

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