Obituary: Denis Peploe
Friday 28 May 1993
FROM HIS earliest days it was clear that Denis Peploe would be a painter. His father was the distinguished painter SJ Peploe and, not long ago, Denis recalled with evident pleasure going out painting with his father and washing his brushes. It was a close relationship.
After leaving Edinburgh Academy in 1931, Peploe attended Edinburgh College of Art for four years and went on to study at the studio of Andre Lhote in Paris. In the pre-war years he travelled widely, particularly in the countries around the Mediterranean. He was greatly drawn to the ideas in art flourishing in Continental Europe at that time and also to the ways of life found in Barcelona and Paris and in the remote rugged villages he explored. He had an unsentimental view of what was sometimes a harsh world.
Throughout the Second World War he served in the Royal Artillery and in the Intelligence Corps as a member of the Special Operations Executive. A serious motor-cycle crash in North Africa resulted in a long stay in hospital and on his release he served at the Allied Forces Headquarters in Casserta until demobilisation in 1946. He did no painting but some drawing during these years.
The first of his many one-man shows was held in 1947 at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. Others followed at the same gallery over the next four decades, and also in London and Glasgow. His subjects were mainly landscapes, although his work also included many still-life and figure studies. Denis Peploe had a particular feeling for the landscapes of the Western Highlands and of the Hebrides; he had roots there, as his mother was a Gaelic-speaking Hebridean.
Craggy and tumbled with sombre colour, these landscapes provided for his interest in structural design and rich surfaces in his work. The dramatic moods of these paintings are in contrast to the gentler feelings of his still-lifes and paintings based on the figure. His interest in sculpture had been aroused by archaic Greek sculpture discovered on his travels which led him to make many portrait heads in bronze and a number of commissioned works, including a Mother and Child for the William Smellie Memorial Hospital in Lanark.
Peploe's tall straight be-smocked figure was a familiar sight in the studios of Edinburgh College of Art, where he taught from 1955 to 1979. He was deeply committed to his teaching and students much appreciated his advice and obvious interest.
He was elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1956 and a full Academician in 1966, and regularly contributed characteristic work to the annual exhibitions of the RSA. Examples of his paintings are in many private and public collections.
By nature Peploe was a rather reserved person. It was said by his mother that as a child he was extremely shy and was physically sick at the prospect of going to a party. Happily for his friends in adult life, this affliction did not persist and he enjoyed the company of the Scottish poets of his generation, among them Sydney Goodsir Snith, Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid and others who frequented the bars of Rose Street in Edinburgh, and he had an enduring friendship with the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean.
Peploe was not a joiner of clubs or coteries but enjoyed conversations on every imaginable subject, preferably not art - although he took pleasure in scoffing at 'fashionable' trends. Science, politics, legends and myths, food and drink, magic, literature and the conceits and follies of mankind were discussed with wit and erudition. Stories of places visited and of odd people encountered were told with wry humour.
Among his diverse and sometimes unexpected interests was the quest for and recording of wild fungi. With his wife Elizabeth and, in their young days, their children Lucy and Guy, carefully planned excursions were made on autumn days to find new specimens. Denis filled sketchbooks with drawings and descriptions of examples found. A new variety would bring about an enjoyable family debate whether to risk eating it or not.
Denis Peploe was an artist of independent mind and with a sympathetic though sometimes ironic view of life. Above all there was style aud integrity. His fortitude and objective outlook during his later years of illness were typical of him.
Sydney Goodsir Smith once wrote of him, 'lugubrious, hilarious, taciturn-fluent, sinister, obsessional, encyclopaedic, electronic, culinary, serious, enquiring, gaunt, gleg, patriarchal, ancient-Wolseley-driving, behattockit, edible-fungophile - in fact Peplovian . . .'
His friends will remember him with much affection.
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