Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Bt.

Summer flowers in a landscape

Oil on canvas: 25.5(h) x 21(w) in /

64.8(h) x 53.3(w) cm

Signed and dated lower right: CEDRIC MORRIS/ '27

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BS 293

 

SIR CEDRIC LOCKWOOD MORRIS, 9th Bt.

Sketty, Swansea 1889 – 1982 Ipswich

 

Summer flowers in a landscape

 

Signed and dated lower right: CEDRIC MORRIS/ ’27

Oil on canvas: 25 ½ x 21 in / 64.8 x 53.3 cm

Frame size: 33 x 28 ½ in / 83.8 x 72.4 cm

 

Provenance:

Private collection

David Bowie, acquired in October 1993

 

Literature:

Frances Spalding, 20th Century Painters and Sculptors: Dictionary of British Art VI, ACC Art Books, London, 1990, illustrated pl. 69

 

 

Summer flowers, celebrating the vivid hues of high summer flowers, caught the discerning eye of David Bowie in the 1990s. Brought up in the Welsh countryside, Cedric Morris remained a countryman all his life, despite periods of bohemian sophistication in Paris and London. He painted flowers from early in his career, even before moving to Pound Farm, Higham in Suffolk in 1929 with his life partner, fellow artist Arthur Lett-Haines. At Higham and later at Benton End, Hadleigh, Morris created wonderful gardens and became famed as a plantsman and breeder of poppies and irises.

 

This painting of 1927, with its warm, chalky hues, rich impasto and soft, semi-abstract background, is an excellent example of Munnings’s flowerpieces of the late 1920s. The composition is an elegant balance between the riotous informality of the natural world and a hint of deliberate choice derived from traditional flower painting, seen in the yellow spikes of the snapdragon and mullein, which form a mandorla around the purple campanula and red poppy. Each flower has a bold personality and pushes into the foreground, almost about to spill from the picture plane. Although he was a fine draughtsman, in oil painting Morris did not use underdrawing but struck out straight onto the canvas, seemingly having a complete vision of a painting in his head before he began filling nearly every inch of surface.

 

In a 1928 interview in Design and Art, Morris stated: ‘I am inclined to believe that selection from natural forms is the expression of our national genius….Neither has anyone exactly copied nature for nature cannot be copied. From natural objects, I obtain line for line’s sake, colour for colour’s sake, form for form’s sake’[1]. The plantswoman Beth Chatto, a friend and follower, has remarked that Cedric ‘could not have painted flower pictures with so remarkable a degree of insight if he had not known the plants intimately by being a ‘dirty hands gardener’ on his knees from dawn to dusk’[2].

 

 

                  

 

Pound Farm, Higham, Suffolk                             Cedric Morris, Summer flowers, 1928.

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums.

 

 

Key to flower diagram[3]

1. Snapdragon    Antirrhinum majus

2. Foxglove   Digitalis purpurea

3. Poppy   Papaver dubium

4. Campanula    Campanula persicifolia?

5. Mallow    Malva sylvestris?

6. Mullein   Verbascum thapsus

7. Gladiolus    Gladiolus species

8. Montbretia    Crocosmia 

9.  Tagetes         Tagetes erecta

10. Cornflower   Centaurea cyanus

11. Bladder campion   Silene vulgaris

12. Goatsbeard    Tragopogon species

13. Pyrethrum   Pyrethrum roseum

 

 

 

SIR CEDRIC LOCKWOOD MORRIS, 9th Bt.

Sketty, Swansea 1889 – 1982 Ipswich

 

Cedric Morris, one of the most original British painters of the twentieth century, was the son of the iron magnate George Lockwood Morris, 8th Bt., and descended from a line of Welsh industrialists whose founder, Sir John Morris (1745-1819) had been a patron of Reynolds and brother of Margaret Desenfans, co-founder of Dulwich Picture Gallery. In 1914 Morris studied at the Académie Delacluse in Paris, before spending the First World War in the Army Remount Service with Alfred Munnings and Cecil Aldin. In 1918 Morris met his lifelong partner, the artist Lett Haines, and the pair settled in Newlyn, Cornwall. In 1920 Cedric and Lett moved to Paris where, great party-goers and -givers, their circle included Duchamp, Gris, Léger, Peggy Guggenheim, Nancy Cunard and Hemingway. Morris was influenced by abstraction although he continued to paint bold, almost naïve landscapes, incisive portraits and Parisian genre pieces. He had his first well-received London exhibition in 1924. Two years later he settled with Lett in London, becoming a member of the Seven and Five Society at the same time as Christopher Wood, who influenced him.

 

Morris’s 1928 exhibition at Arthur Tooth, which included some of his powerful and mysterious animal paintings, was a sellout. A gentle countryman who liked to paint with his pet rabbit Maria Marten perched on his shoulder, Morris seemed to distil the essence of flowers, birds and animals in colourful, richly-textured works. Wry humour, and his admiration for Italian ‘primitives’ such as Piero della Francesca, is apparent in a work of 1926, The entry of moral turpitude into New York (private collection, England), sparked by the American authorities’ refusal to let a divorced, titled Englishwoman enter the USA. In 1929 Morris moved to Pound Farm, Higham in Suffolk, inheriting the larger house called The Pound from his landlady and student Mrs Vivien Doyle Jones in 1932. There he created a memorable garden, becoming a renowned breeder of irises. In the 1930s, deeply distressed by the effects of the Depression in his native Wales, Morris made many trips back to his birthplace, organising an exhibition of Welsh Contemporary Art at Aberystwyth and becoming involved with an art centre for the unemployed at Gwernllwyn House, Dowlais.

 

Already disillusioned with the wiles of London dealers, Morris nevertheless went ahead with an exhibition of portraits at Guggenheim Jeune Gallery in 1938. A guest so objected to his work that he began to burn the catalogues and Morris hit him: ‘the walls of the gallery were spattered with blood’[4]. Thereafter Morris abandoned the London art scene. The previous year he and Lett had set up the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. When the building caught fire in 1940 (gleefully applauded by Sir Alfred Munnings, who hated modern art) the school, as well as Cedric and Lett’s home, moved to Benton End, Hadleigh, Suffolk, where another marvellous garden was created. Students were given creative freedom as well as a solid grounding in technique (not to mention the benefits of Lett’s superb cooking). Alumni include Lucian Freud (who imbibed Morris’s method of painting directly on to canvas, without underdrawing) and Maggi Hambling. Failing sight caused Cedric Morris to give up painting in 1975, but he was still gardening at the age of ninety-one in 1981; he died in Ipswich the following year.

 

The work of Cedric Morris is represented in Tate Britain, London; the V&A, London; the National Portrait Gallery, London; the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; the Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva; the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp and the City Art Gallery, Auckland.

[1] Quoted in London, Tate Gallery, Cedric Morris, 1984, catalogue by Richard Morphet, p.29.

[2] Richard Morphet, Cedric Morris, 1984, p.86.

[3] We are very grateful to Celia Fisher for the identification of the flowers.

[4] Quoted in Morphet, ibid., p.54.

Modern BritishSir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Bt.