Artist Iris Peploe draws focus from great-granddad

Iris's work echoes that of her great-grandfather. Picture: Lesley Martin
Iris's work echoes that of her great-grandfather. Picture: Lesley Martin
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THE colours are vivid and lush, the brush strokes broad and confident, while the signature across the bottom of the collection of striking paintings hanging on the wall of a New Town gallery is nothing if not familiar to the Scottish art world.

Peploe, it says.

But they aren’t newly-discovered works of famed Scottish Colourist SJ Peploe, even if they strike a familiar chord in their sweeping Impressionist style. Nor are they the work of his celebrated artist son Denis, known for his moody Scottish landscapes and evocative Highland scenes.

Instead, they are from the palate of the third Peploe to display a stunning artistic talent – SJ Peploe’s great-granddaughter, Iris. And they are surely proof that creative talent and an eye for art runs like pigment through Peploe veins.

Still just 17, Iris has amassed a collection of vibrant paintings – garden scenes completed in her final year at Edinburgh Academy and a new collection inspired by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – for her first exhibition.

Remarkably for an unknown artist, the series of paintings has almost sold out before it even opens this weekend – prompting the teenager to head back to Inverleith, seeking fresh inspiration for further works to include in the show.

But while her exhibition at The Scottish Gallery – which is run by her father, Guy Peploe – has created a buzz before it opens, Iris simply shrugs off the significance of becoming the latest Peploe to put their name in the picture frame.

And instead her sights are set on simply raising enough money from their sale to help fund her gap year trip to Namibia next January, where she plans to spend eight months teaching primary school children.

“It’s really nice that the paintings are selling so quickly,” she concedes. “But right now I think I’d rather study history of art when I come back from Namibia than become a professional

While that might depress those impressed by her efforts, the good news is that picking up a brush seems effortless. “I find it very natural to paint. I don’t really think very much about how my great-grandfather or grandfather might have painted something, I just try to do my own thing. But I have had classmates and teachers say that my work does sometimes remind them of SJ Peploe, which is quite nice.”

SJ Peploe was perhaps the most famous of the Scottish Colourists, who took his influences from the French Impressionist movement and applied it to the paintings he created at his Edinburgh studio.

His 1905 painting Still Life with a Coffee Pot, made £937,250 at auction in 2005 and is one of the most expensive Scottish paintings to go under the hammer.

Denis – Iris’s grandfather, pictured right – was well known in his own right for his paintings and sculptures. He went on to teach at Edinburgh College of Art and many of his works are kept in private and public collections.

But while Iris’s father Guy – managing director of The Scottish Gallery – admits he “can’t paint for toffee” he believes her work stands up to scrutiny, irrespective of family ties.

“I’m a hardened, seasoned pro, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I honestly can say I think they are really good,” Guy says. “Certainly their quality is far greater than anything that I could do. The genetic component has to be there although it skipped a generation in my case because I can’t paint and nor can my sister. So if the talent is genetic, then it has re-emerged after being on hold for a few years.”

All but a couple of her works have sold before the three-day exhibition begins on Saturday, he adds. “People are buying them for three reasons: for one, lots of artists have seen them and think they are fantastic. Secondly, they want to support her as she tries to raise money for her trip and, finally, she has the Peploe name and if you can buy a ‘Peploe’ for just over 100 quid, then that can’t be bad.

“She has managed to find her own style and there’s real quality in her work,” he adds. “The paintings are Impressionist but are graphically strong, based on real observations. She has her own palate with strong colours.”

Paintings for the exhibition have been drawn from Iris’s A-level art portfolio – she flew through the subject with an A* – and have been added to by a range of new works created during her outings to the Botanics. Among them are a string of brightly coloured water-based acrylic scenes, some splashed with brilliant dabs of scarlet, one of the Rock Garden stream that seems to bubble up from the canvas in a froth of moving water and others that depict the familiar grey Edinburgh skyline hovering in the background.

Soon, though, the lush greenery of the paintings may be replaced on the gallery walls by scenes from a far warmer climes – Iris is hoping to spend some of her time off teaching in northern Namibia creating a new range of artworks. “I’ll do some painting while I’m there,” she nods, giving hope for further Peploe creations.

As for those family links, Iris insists having two famous artists in the background doesn’t mean she’s feeling the pressure to match their impressive lead.

“It’s just nice to know that I come from that background,” she smiles, “but right now, for me, painting is just a hobby.”

• Iris Peploe’s work will be display at The Scottish Gallery from October 5-8.

Artistic influence and flair stretches back through generations of family

Iris Peploe’s great-grandfather was Samuel John Peploe, best known of the Scottish Colourists.

He was born in 1871, lost his mother at the age of just three and his banker father aged 13, leaving him to be raised by his nanny.

He went to the Trustees Academy – a forerunner to the Edinburgh College of Art – before leaving the city for Paris in 1891 where he studied for three years at the Academie Julian.

He became strongly influenced by the French Impressionist movement but his works were at first too advanced for Scottish tastes.

He was best known for his still life works but also painted landscapes and portraits.

He married in Morningside in 1910 and his second son, Denis Peploe, was born in 1914. He studied at Edinburgh Academy and showed a flair for art, perhaps honed while accompanying his father on painting outings when he’d clean his brushes.

Against parental advice he went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art and broadened his art knowledge in France, Florence and Spain until the outbreak of war brought him home.

He served with the Special Operations Executive as a captain, eventually leaving to teach art at Fettes College and later at Edinburgh College of Art.

He became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1967. Many public galleries hold examples of his work, which included oil landscapes of the Highlands and Spain and still life paintings which seem influenced by his father’s studies.