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Sir Cedric Lockwood  Morris, 9th Bt. - Green mountain lilies

Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Bt.

Green mountain lilies

Oil on canvas: 36(h) x 28.3(w) in / 91.4(h) x 71.8(w) cm
Signed and dated lower left: CEDRIC MORRIS - 54;_x000d_ signed and titled on a label on the stretcher: Green _x000d_ Mountain Lilies / Cedric Mo…

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BZ 177

 

SIR CEDRIC LOCKWOOD MORRIS, 9th Bt.

Sketty, Swansea 1889 – 1982 Ipswich

 

Green mountain lilies

 

Signed and dated lower left: CEDRIC MORRIS – 54;

signed and titled on a label on the stretcher: Green Mountain Lilies / Cedric Mo…

Oil on canvas: 36 x 28 ¼ in / 91.7 x 71.8 cm

Frame size: 43 x 35 in / 109.2 x 88.9 cm

 

 

Provenance:

Sir Peter Wakefield, CMG (1922-2010) and Miss Mary Rose Wakefield

Austin Desmond Fine Art, London;

where purchased by a private collector, UK

 

Literature:

London, Tate Gallery, Cedric Morris, exh. cat. by Richard Morphet, 28th March-13th May 1984, no.89, illus. in colour on the back cover (as Flowers in a brown jug, erroneously dated 1950; lent by Miss Mary Rose Wakefield)

 

 

Cedric Morris 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’[1].

 

Beautifully balanced, glowing and richly textured, this work is among the finest of Morris’s flower paintings, chosen by Richard Morphet for the back cover of his ground-breaking exhibition of the artist’s work at the Tate Gallery in 1984. By 1954, the year that it was painted, Morris had been living at Benton End, Hadleigh in Suffolk for fourteen years. With his partner, Lett Haines, he ran the East Anglian School of Painting, whose alumni include Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling. He created a fascinating garden, cultivating rare plants brought from travels in Europe and north Africa, and breeding irises and poppies. New varieties of iris were given the prefix ‘Benton’ and named after friends, pupils and beloved pets. Morris was a plantsman rather than a perfectionist gardener, delighting in the creative informality which characterized his painting and his teaching. Lucian Freud recalled: ‘at first the garden seemed rather a mess, but the more you looked the more interesting it became, at all seasons’[2].

 

This bouquet is set in a brown jug against a textured background of lilac-grey against which the orange, golden, white and soft pink flowers pulsate. Morris commented: ‘I never draw. I know exactly what I want to do before I start. It’s all planned beforehand, all worked out: every position of every flower, every shape, and every colour. It’s all done, complete, in my head, before I begin’[3]. Each flower is a distinct personality, twisting in space, fully understood in every botanical detail, but presented with a delightful boldness and exuberance which is at the heart of Morris’s romantic modernism.

 

The origins of the flowers reflect Morris’s fondness for mixing subtle and rare species amid more familiar plants and are a tribute to the plant-hunting activities of the artist and his botanical predecessors. The rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) at top left comes from the Mediterranean, as does the Allium siculum next to it, which has unusual drooping brownish flowers, here seen in bud. Other flowers in the painting had arrived in England from further afield, for example the red hot pokers from South Africa and the evening primrose from America. The balloon flower is native to China and Japan, while the clematis derives from hybrids of species from East Asia[4]. In his article on flower painting, Morris stressed that ‘there must always be great understanding between the painter and the thing painted’[5]. It is this understanding that gives his work its power and magic.

 

On the reverse of the canvas is an unfinished study of the pool at Dedham Mill, a property formerly owned by John Constable’s father, with the bridge over the river Stour at Mill Lane. The scene was painted several times by Sir Alfred Munnings, who lived in Dedham at the same time as Cedric Morris and Lett Haines ran their art school there in the late 1930s. Disapproving of their tendencies towards Modernism and bohemianism, Munnings was jubilant when the art school burned down in 1940, impelling its move to Benton End.

 

Cedric Morris had a wide circle of collectors, many of whom became friends. A particularly fine group of his works, including the present painting, were acquired by Sir Peter and Lady Wakefield. Morris was a family friend of Felicity Wakefield, who herself is an artist. The Wakefields visited him during their honeymoon and he gave them a painting as a wedding present; thereafter they acquired one of his works nearly every year. After a distinguished career as a diplomat, Sir Peter became Director of the National Art Collections Fund. 

 

 

 

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’[6]. 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.

 

[1] ‘Concerning flower painting’, The Studio, vol. CXXIII, no.590, May 1942, p.130.

[2] Quoted in London, Tate Gallery, Cedric Morris, 1984, exh. cat. by Richard Morphet, p.69.

[3] The eighty-year-old Cedric Morris quoted in ‘Sir Cedric Morris, flower painter and naturalist’, Leisure Painter, Winter 1970.

[4] Information derived from a report on the flowers by Dr Celia Fisher.

[5] ‘Concerning flower painting’, op. cit., p.122.

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

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