As an antidote to the rather rainy summer, enjoy our display of flower and landscape paintings by Sir Cedric Morris (1889-1982). Morris partied with Ernest Hemingway and Peggy Guggenheim in Paris in the 1920s and was a ‘bright young thing’ on the social scene in London. At his show at Tooth’s in February 1930, the press noted that he was all ‘the rage’ with his ‘unusual range of subject….freshness, originality and innocence of outlook’. By the summer of that year he had broken with Tooth’s and never had a regular London dealer for the rest of his career. Another journalist breathlessly reported that Morris had shaken ‘the dust of London from his shoes and the glacial chink of the cocktail-shaker from his ears, and [gone] to live in the country’. With his partner Arthur Lett-Haines (always known as Lett), Morris ensconced himself at Pound Farm, Higham in Suffolk, and later at Benton End, Hadleigh, where he painted, taught art, and created two magical gardens. He became renowned as a plantsman, a breeder of irises and poppies, but was also the teacher of Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling.
The three flowerpieces span Morris’s career. Wild flowers, 1923 is a riot of Mediterranean blooms painted while he was travelling in Italy and Spain with Lett, their rich impasto and fierce spontaneity reflecting his habit of striking out across the canvas without any underdrawing. Summer flowers in a landscape dates from 1927. 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’. This painting comes from the collection of David Bowie – who had a very keen eye for Modern British painting – acquired by him in 1993.
In Iris, Welsh poppies, aquilegia and cornflowers, painted in 1966, Morris pays homage to his passion for iris breeding and his pride in his Welsh heritage (he came from a long line of Welsh industrialists and was the 9th Morris Baronet). The handling is more smooth and the colours cooler than in the 1920s paintings: each flower has a perfectly developed shape and ‘personality’ of its own.
Landscape with farm buildings, also from David Bowie’s collection, dates from 1930, when Morris had just arrived at Pound Farm. Morris delights in the gently rolling, rich farmland of south Suffolk, with the trees just tinged with autumn colours. The direct, vigorous brushwork reflects a painter who was an intriguing mix of the innocent and the sophisticated, and a man who was a countryman at heart.