Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Bt.
Oil on canvas: 19.8(h) x 24(w) in / 50.2(h) x 61(w) cm
Signed and dated lower right: C MORRIS / 26
SIR CEDRIC LOCKWOOD MORRIS, 9TH BT.
Sketty, Swansea 1889 - 1982 Ipswich
Ref: BZ 248
Signed and dated lower right: C MORRIS /26
Oil on canvas: 19 ¾ x 24 in / 50.2 x 61 cm
Frame size: 23 x 27 in / 58.4 x 68.6 cm
In an oak polished and waxed tray frame
Acquired in the 1980s by a private collector, UK
Cedric Morris’s meadows full of flowers are perhaps unique in the genre of flower painting, their only parallels being medieval millefiori tapestries or the obsessive delineation of the natural world in Richard Dadd’s The fairy-feller’s master-stroke, 1855-64 (Tate Britain, London). This painting of Flowers is the fruit of Morris’s rambles through the meadows of southern Europe in the years after the First World War. It was a time for him of freedom and exploration as a countryman and lover of nature: the flip side of his personality from the young man who graced the cocktail-glass-chinking world of the Bright Young People. Morris had studied art in Paris before the First World War and returned there in 1920 to live with his lifelong partner, the Surrealist-influenced artist Lett Haines. Although he settled back in London in 1926, a pattern was set in which Cedric and Lett would explore southern Europe – still blissfully free from mass tourism and the ravages of industrial pesticides on fields - every year.
Morris takes us down to a bee’s-eye-view of the riotously colourful meadow. He uses a luscious impasto, so that each flower has a sculptural solidity and the whole canvas celebrates his glee at manipulating the physical qualities of oil paint. Morris rarely, if ever, used underdrawing and seemed to be able to conceive his compositions as artlessly as nature does, starting at the top left of his canvas and moving down to the bottom right, giving a vivid sense of the jostling exuberance of the plant world.
The array of flowers suggests that the painting was executed in a coastal area of southern Spain. Botanist Celia Fisher comments: ‘Some of the wild flowers here are common enough throughout Europe, for instance poppies, corn marigolds, ox eye daisies and the two silenes; but most are Mediterranean species and would only be found further north in cultivation, for instance the asphodels, grape hyacinths, wallflowers and snapdragon (nearly all wild antirrhinums are native to Spain). The two euphorbias are indigenous to Spain, Portugal and north-west Africa and grow on dry, sandy soil, as does the spiny solanum. The sea lavenders are coastal plants. The presence of the daisy flowers, which are weeds of corn fields, may suggest that farmland was nearby. The butterfly is a Spanish species of cabbage white native to coastal dunes (the overall family of cabbage whites is Pieridae, within which are many variants). This one migrates northwards in summer and may even be found in south-west England (hence the name Bath white).’
Morris, who became a renowned plant breeder and gardener in his later years, had an almost mystical relationship with the flowers that he painted. He wrote: ‘I like to think that there is behind this special painting [flower painting] an esoteric line of thought that expresses itself in symbols portraying the eternity of experience that flowers themselves have, not merely of struggle and achievement but a crystallization of all past apprehensions.’
Key to flowers in the painting
1 Asphodel Asphodelus aestivus
2 Tassel hyacinth Muscari comosum
3 Grape hyacinth Muscari neglectum
4 Euphorbia Euphorbia escula subsp. escula
5 Euphorbia Euphorbia squamigera
6 Snapdragon Antirrhinum species
7 Spanish broom Cytisus multiflorus
8 Wallflower Erysium cheiri
9 Spiny solanum Solanum xanthocarpum
10 Sea lavender (statice) Limonium perezii
11 Sea lavender (statice) Limonium narbonense
12 Catchfly Silene armeria
13 Bladder campion Silene vulgaris
14 Corn marigold Glebionis segetum
15 Ox eye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare
16 Marigold Calendula officinalis
17 Poppy Papaver rhoeas
18 Cabbage white butterfly Pontia daplidice
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. He 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 sell-out. A 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’. 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, Essex. 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. Morris travelled to America, Mexico and Cuba in the 1930s and to Europe and north Africa throughout his life, collecting rare plants and painting landscapes. 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.
 We are very grateful to Celia Fisher for the flower diagram and key to the painting and the comments on the species.
 ‘Concerning flower painting’, The Studio, vol. CXXIII, no.590, May 1942, p.130.
 Quoted in Morphet, ibid., p.54.