The imaginary artist was the creation of Joanna Carrington (1931-2003), the niece of the Bloomsbury School painter Dora Carrington (1893-1932). Pepper became her alter ego at around the time her second husband, the film-maker Christopher Mason, made a documentary on the ‘primitive’ works of Cornish painter Alfred Wallis in 1973.
‘Pepper’s’ naïve pictures developed a good following through a series of exhibitions at London’s Portal Gallery. It was not until 1981 that her true identity was revealed by The Sunday Times, although she continued to use the pseudonym for many years afterwards.
Earlier in her life Carrington had studied at a summer school at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, whose founder Cedric Morris believed she had great promise.
Later studying at the Central School of Art & Design, in subsequent years she received praise for her landscapes, interiors, garden and flower pictures but today it is these ‘Reg Pepper’ pastoral scenes that command the most interest at auction. Works by the artist are relatively rare on the market in any case but these primitive pictures are especially so.
A group of four works emerged at Lay’s (21% buyer’s premium) auction in Penzance, Cornwall, on June 15-16, however. All from the same deceased estate, each sold above their modest estimates to three different buyers.
The top price came for Ploughing from 1988, a picture bought from the Portal Gallery in the year it was painted. The 18 x 2ft (46 x 61cm) oil on board, signed with the initials RP, was inscribed on the back: The gales blew the leaves off the trees early, Monsieur Tortaquil gets out his tractor for the ploughing.
The auction house said it was “delightfully quirky and playful” and that “it ticked all the right boxes for Carrington/Pepper connoisseurs: funny, clever and completely charming”.
Estimated at £400-600, it was knocked down at £3400 to a West Country buyer.
The sum was a record for any work by Carrington (or Pepper) sold at auction, the previous high for an individual work being the £1600 for Blue river l’Anglin at Christie’s in 2010.