Brexiting Colourists

Two major works by the Scottish Colourist painter SJ Peploe go under the hammer this  week in a new test of foreign buyers’ post-Brexit appetite for classic British and Scottish works.

Peploe’s  still-life Red and pink roses, oranges and fan, with a price estimated at up to £1,000,000 – no Colourist work has yet broken the million pound mark – goes on sale at Christie’s Modern British and Irish art auction on Wednesday.


Christie's SJ Peploe still life

SJ Peploe’s ‘Red and pink roses, oranges and fan’, 1925, 24 x 20 in

A second and if anything more striking work, Roses in a vase against an orange background, is expected to fetch £5-800,000, and had caught the eye of at least one leading Scottish art collector last week .    Both pictures were painted around 1925.

“These are two of the boldest Peploes  I have had for many years,” said Andre Zlattinger, who is Christie’s Head of Modern British and Irish Art, but was formerly a specialist on Scottish art who oversaw market leading sales.  “They are from the mid-20s with fauve ocular,  very much showing the development of his painting and looking towards Matisse and Gauguin and those artists.   These are two really, really good still lives.”

SJ Peploe Christie's Scottish Colourist auction

SJ Peploe’s, Roses in a vase against an orange background, 1925, 20×16 in.

Last June, one week after the Brexit result sent the pound plummeting,  a classic early work  by Peploe, the Black Bottle sold for £902,500 to an American collector.    Foreign buyers, including Hong Kong and some mainland Chinese collectors, have bought Scottish colourist works in recent years.

There are also key works by his fellow colourist FCB Cadell in the sale,  from the collection of the Glasgow shipowner George Service,  Cadell’s greatest patron.   He met Cadell on Iona in 1912 and went on to buy more than 100 works.

They include The Harbour, Cassis,  where a woman in yellow lounges on whitened rocks.   “I fnd this part of France most interesting to paint. The light is wonderfully brilliant even fierce – the weather is superb – Basking! …This place has several points in common with Iona,” Cadell would write.

FCB Cadell Scottish colourists christie's auction

F.C.B. Cadell, The Harbour, Cassis, circa 1923

Cadell was a close friend of Peploe and the two painted on Iona together; while Cadell’s best interiors or pieces from Venice are unforgettable,  his work was more uneven, and his  prices typically lagged a little behind.     Cadell’s The Avenue, Auchnacraig, which lies just off the ferry route from Mull to Iona, is priced at just £70-100,000; Zlattinger describes the work as “almost like a Cezanne, with dappled light.”  The work is being sold by George Service’s descendents.

FCB Cadell, Christie's Scottish colourists auction

The Avenue, Auchnacraig, by FCB Cadell, 1927; £70-100,000 est.

Sales of Colourist works match the pattern across the markets;   the top end can deliver phenomenally strong prices but the mid and lower range of the market have flattened after the heady rises of earlier years.     “The market is very much about masterpieces, for the top works there is always a huge demand,” Zlattinger said.

Colourists  sold well in Asia through the Hong Kong market in the last decade or so.   The impact of the Brexit effect has yet to play out, but there was a strong American and Asian demand through the June sales.

When Peploe’s The Coffee Pot sold at Christie’s for £937,250 in 2011, setting what is still the record for the artist – just below the elusive £1 million – that amounted to $1,526,780. When the Black Bottle sold for £902,500, the US dollar equivalent was just $1,208,448.

The sale is lead by British works by Ben Nicholson and others; on the Scottish front it also features pieces by  Anne Redpath and Colourist George Leslie Hunter.