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Sir Cedric Lockwood  Morris, 9th Bt. - Nicotiana in contrast

Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Bt.

Nicotiana in contrast

Oil on canvas: 18(h) x 24(w) in / 45.7(h) x 61(w) cm
Signed and dated lower right: CEDRIC MORRIS / 42; titled on the canvas overlap

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BX 129



Sketty, Swansea 1889 – 1982 Ipswich


Nicotiana in contrast


Signed and dated lower right: CEDRIC MORRIS / 42;

titled on the canvas overlap

Oil on canvas: 18 x 24 in / 45.7 x 61 cm

Frame size: 25 x 30 ½ in / 63.5 x 77.5 cm

In its original restored frame



The Leicester Galleries, London;

from whom bought by Clement Butson, Esq.

Abbott and Holder, London;

from whom bought circa 1968 by a private collector, New Zealand



In this painting Cedric Morris uses startlingly original colour juxtapositions to produce a work of great impact, at once naturalistic and stylized. The purple of the nicotiana, scabious and autumn crocus clashes against the vivid scarlet of the poppies and Maltese cross. Interwoven are the cool silver, blue and blue-green hues of the lamb’s tongue, spiderwort and yellow-horned poppy. The subtle blue of the globular vase is echoed in the vertical panel of blue in the background, which balances the purple-brown horizontal of the table top. Morris plays with the ambiguities of space behind the bouquet, the greys and blacks of the right-hand background push the flowers in front of it into intense silhouette, while the blooms sink gently against the soft blue panel on the left, turning deeper into space. The effect is to give this far-from-still life a brilliant dynamism, acknowledged in Morris’s title, Nicotiana in contrast.


This is a late summer bouquet, as nicotiana, Japanese anemones, sunflowers and autumn crocuses all appear in July or August. The yellow-horned poppy can be found growing in shingle along the Suffolk coast. The Maltese cross, so called from the shape of its flowers, is a garden flower introduced from Russia. Caryopteris and Japanese anemone are native to China and Japan, while the tradescantia, sunflowers and nicotiana are of American origin.







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’[1]. 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 Morphet, ibid., p.54.