Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Bt.

Still life in doorway

Oil on canvas: 27(h) x 22.2(w) in /

68.6(h) x 56.5(w) cm

Signed and dated lower right: CEDRIC MORRIS / 1942

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SIR CEDRIC LOCKWOOD MORRIS, 9th Bt.

Sketty, Swansea 1889 – 1982 Ipswich

 

Still life in doorway

 

Signed and dated lower right: CEDRIC MORRIS / 1942

Oil on canvas: 27 x 22 ¼ in / 68.5 x 56.5 cm

Frame size: 32 x 37 in / 81.3 x 68.6 cm

 

Provenance:

Private collection, UK

Phillips London, 8th June 1999, lot 104;

Private collection, UK, acquired from the above

 

 

This work was painted in the upstairs studio at Benton End[1], the beautiful sixteenth century house at Hadleigh in Suffolk which Cedric Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines acquired in 1940. There they continued their East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing and Cedric created the second of his magical gardens. This painting, rather unusually, combines a floral still life with a complex, unsettling geometric background, the perspective of which sets up a sense of uneasiness. The table top tilts up towards the viewer; the open door leads like a puzzle-box towards further apertures from which light streams. Morris was perhaps thinking of the intriguing interior vistas of painters like Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) and of the surreal perspectives in the work of Paul Nash (1889-1946), whose painter brother John (1893-1977) lived not far away at Wormingford. 

 

In contrast to the diagonal and vertical lines of the architectural setting, the sinuous stems of the plants have a seductive freedom. Morris is a brilliant colourist, sometimes choosing to clash hot and cold floral colours. Here he chooses a range of cool hues, with blue scabious, white hollyhocks and the mauve-pinks of mallow and Himalayan balsam, the Victorian garden escapee which runs riot at the edge of water. Morris was as interested in plant shapes as colours and the twisting flowers and emerald, sword-like leaves of the balsam must have given him huge pleasure to express in paint. At the foot of the bouquet is poised a Cedric Morris poppy, bred by him from wild, scarlet field poppies with the colours played in a minor key, here a whispery lilac edged with darker pink.  

 

 

 

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 house 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’[2]. 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] Information very kindly provided by Robert Davey, Chairman of the Cedric Morris Estate, and Jonathan Benson, Trustee.

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

Modern BritishSir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Bt.