Peggy Macrae was the household name of the ‘supermodel’ of her day who featured in the country’s most expensive painting


Today, a portrait of early 20th century artist model Peggy Macrae could fetch up to £300,000 at auction.

Macrae was painted by Scottish colorist artist Samuel John Peploe in his studio in York Place, Edinburgh around 1908.

The impressionist oil painting “The White Dress” shows her in an elegant pose with her head slightly raised, looking out from the canvas.

Peploe’s striking masterpiece is set to spark international interest when it goes under the hammer for the first time at Sotheby’s British and Irish Modern Art sale in London on November 23.

Thomas Podd, a specialist in Scottish art at Sotheby’s, said the portrait was “one of the best” ever made by the artist.

He added: “The role model is Peggy Macrae, who posed a lot for Peploe early in her career. Peploe had a number of role models but Peggy was her favourite.

“This is an extraordinarily important image of Peploe, and one of his greatest portraits. We are absolutely delighted to bring this to the auction market for the very first time. I think many serious collectors will be motivated to bid on it.”

The White Dress with Peggy Macrae, painted by Samuel John Peploe circa 1908

Peploe, born in Edinburgh in 1871, was the eldest of four Scottish colourists, who also included John Duncan Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell. The quartet went on to set a new standard for the use of Scotland’s unique light, landscape and people.

Colorists were never complacent and held a firm belief that art came first, always before any other consideration.

Peploe, one of the purists, painted “The White Dress” in his studio at Raeburn House, the A-listed, three-storey terraced house at 32 York Place that inspired his so-called White Period in the early 1900s.

Like a supermodel of her time, the elegant Macrae was well aware of her worth. Artists who needed a model rushed to her and she carefully selected those she worked with.

It was said that her striking looks and her instinctive sense of presentation – the angle of a hat, the slant of an eyebrow – were in high demand, and that she posed so naturally that portrait painters commissioned to paint women of the fashionable society secretly used Macrae to model the clothes.

A particular favorite of Scottish colourists, she also appears in Cadell’s famous portraits, while another Peploe masterpiece, “Girl in White”, for which Macrae posed, was Scottish painting for many years. the most expensive at auction at £506,000.

Stanley Cursiter, the portrait painter and keeper of the National Galleries of Scotland from 1930 to 1948, in his memoirs of Peploe, describes Macrae as “a charming, witty and attractive girl, who had the rare gift of complete grace which made from her every interesting move”.

He added, “She fell naturally into balanced and harmonious poses and, best of all, she immediately mimicked the figure she was asked to portray.”

Within a few years, Macrae would marry and emigrate to America, leaving behind the paintings she honored as her lasting legacy on Scottish art.

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