SJ Peploe painting reveals second work on the back

Guy Peploe with the newly discovered image of his father Denis and uncle Willie. Picture: Neil Hanna
Guy Peploe with the newly discovered image of his father Denis and uncle Willie. Picture: Neil Hanna
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AN UNSEEN work by one of Scotland’s most famous artists has been discovered – hidden behind a painting that hung on the wall of an Edinburgh family for decades.

The family had only hoped to get restoration work done on the landscape of Iona beach by Scottish Colourist SJ Peploe –but when a board pinned to the rear of the canvas was gently removed it revealed an entirely different and never before seen painting on the reverse.

The stunning 1920s hidden artwork shows two boys – Peploe’s sons Willie and Denis – dressed in their Edinburgh Academy uniforms, posing with a cricket bat.

The discovery stunned the artist’s grandson Guy Peploe, who had been handed the £90,000 painting by its owners to prepare for sale at his New Town gallery – particularly as one of the boys it depicts is his father Denis.

“Seeing this painting of my father and uncle on the back which we didn’t know was there, was incredible,” said Mr Peploe, who runs The Scottish Gallery in Dundas Street. “It is actually the only painting I have ever seen of my father by SJ Peploe.”

The “two for the price of one” artwork provides a unique glimpse into the world of the acclaimed turn of the century Scottish post-Impressionist, one of the four major talents who became known as the Scottish Colourists.

For it reveals his prudent streak in ‘recycling’ his canvas and keen eye for what would appeal to buyers. “My grandfather must have done this painting of my father Denis and Uncle Willie, which is actually a lovely composition, and then perhaps thought, ‘Is anyone going to be interested? Perhaps not’,” said Mr Peploe.

“He might then turn it around so there’s a new unpainted canvas and start all over again.”

Instead of selling the painting, he opted to cover it with a board and used the clean side of the canvas to paint the Iona scene – one of the most-prized subjects for collectors of his works. “It was the Great Depression, materials were expensive and he must have thought rather than buy new canvas, he would just recycle it,” Mr Peploe added.

The secret painting was only revealed while the work was being cleaned and revarnished in preparation for the gallery’s latest exhibition.

The artworks are impossible to separate, even though the painting of the boys alone could have fetched at least £30,000 to £50,000.

The painting had been kept in the same anonymous Edinburgh family for generations, but no-one suspected the board across the back was hiding a secret work of art.

“Sometimes a board is put on to protect a picture while it is being transported,” added Mr Peploe. “You wouldn’t look at a board on the back of a canvas and instantly think that it was there to cover something up. It has been a fantastic thing to find.”

The “double A side” Peploe will be on show at The Scottish Gallery from tomorrow for its Modern Masters III exhibition, which runs until 26 July.


SAMUEL John Peploe was born in Manor Place, Edinburgh, in 1871 and became noted for his Scottish Post-Impressionist style and still life works.

He was one of the group of four painters that became known as the Scottish Colourists.

His 1905 painting Still Life with Coffee Pot sold in 2012 for £937,250, making it one of the most expensive Scottish paintings ever sold at auction. His son Denis followed in his footsteps and became an acclaimed artist and teacher at Edinburgh College of Art.

Recently SJ Peploe’s granddaughter Iris – whose father Guy runs The Scottish Gallery in Dundas Street and admits he “can’t paint for toffee” – emerged as the latest generation of the family to show artistic talent, when she held her first exhibition.