Cedric Morris

Self portrait by Cedric Morris (1919)

Cedric Lockwood Morris was born on December 11th 1889 at Matcham Lodge, Sketty, Swansea.  He was the first-born child of George Lockwood Morris, an industrialist, iron founder and prominent rugby player who had played for Wales and his wife Wilhelmina (née Cory).  Both of Cedric’s mother and father hailed from well-to-do families who owned industrial businesses. Cedric had two sisters, Muriel who died in her teens and Nancy who was four years his junior. In 1947, when Cedric’s father, George, was eighty-eight, he succeeded to the baronetcy which had been created for his great grandfather. Sir John Morris, a copper and coal magnate.  This prestigious event came three months before he died and the baronetcy passed on to fifty-eight-year-old Cedric Morris, who became the 9th Baronet in November 1947. 

Cedric was sent away to St Cyprian’s School, Eastbourne, an English preparatory boarding school for boys, which trained pupils to proceed to leading public schools, and so providing a taster to boarding school life.  From here Cedric, aged thirteen, was enrolled at Charterhouse, an English public school.  He achieved very little academically at these schools and sat the examinations to enter the army, which he failed. In 1907, aged seventeen, Cedric, at his mother’s suggestion, travelled to Canada to work on a farm in Ontario.  That did not suit him and after a number of menial low-paid jobs he returned to Wales.  He briefly studied music at the Royal College of Music where he hoped to become a singer but again he failed in that venture.  In April 1914, at the age of twenty-four, he travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Delacluse in the Montparnasse district of the French capital.  His stay in Paris was curtailed due to the outbreak of the First World War and he returned to England and joined the Artists’ Rifles, an active-duty volunteer reserve force of the British Army.  Many of those who joined were artists, actors, musicians and architects and its first headquarters was located at Burlington House. Its first commanders were the painters Henry Wyndham Phillips and Frederic Leighton. However like many of his previous aspirations, this came to naught, when he was medically discharged due to a childhood operation which affected his hearing and so he never made it to the Front.  However, Cedric who was an accomplished horseman, took up his next position as part of the  war effort when he joined the Remounts Service which was responsible for the provisioning and training horses and mules which were bound for the Front.  He worked under Cecil Aldin, a Remount Purchasing Officer who was also an amateur artist.  In 1916 the Remounts Service was taken over by the Army and became the Army Service Corps Remounts Service and as Cedric was a civilian he had to leave the organisation.

Frances Hodgkins by Cedric Morris (1917)

In 1917 Morris travelled to Zennor, a village in south-west Cornwall, close to St Ives, where he stayed for twelve months painting in watercolours and studying the plants and fauna of the area.  It was here that he met the New Zealand painter, Frances Hodgkins.

Cedric Morris (Man with Macaw) by Frances Hodgkins (1930)

As well as his painting of her Frances painted one of him with a macaw in 1930.

Arthur Lett Haines

By the time of the Armistice and the end of the Great War on November 13th, 1918, Morris had left Cornwall and returned to London and it was on Armistice Day that he first met Arthur Lett Haines and fell in love with the painter and sculptor despite Haines living with his wife of two years, Gertrude Aimee Lincoln, an American and granddaughter of Abraham Lincoln.  Cedric Morris moved into the Lett Hains’ household in Carlyle Square, Chelsea and the trio had planned to move together to America.  However, the three-person tryst ended and Aimee moved alone to America.  With Aimee out of the picture, the two men travelled to Newlyn, Cornwall and set up home. Arthur Lett Haines, known by his middle-name Lett, was five years younger than Morris, being born on November 2nd 1894.  He was educated at St Paul’s School Public School, London and went on to serve in the British Army during the Great War.

Atelier Tapisseries, Djerba, Tunisia by Cedric Morris (1926)

Cedric Morris and Lett Haines moved to Cornwall to set up home in 1919 and at the same time they sub-let their London flat to Frances Hodgkins.  They moved houses a couple of times before settling in a house known as The Bowgie, which was a combination of a row of old cottages overlooking Newlyn harbour, and became a holiday home for the pair.  At Christmas 1920 they sold The Bowgie and moved to Paris. 

Cedric Morris and Lett Haines

The Paris that Morris and Lett Haines arrived at was said to have been a melting pot of artistic creativity. The pair would devote their evenings mingling in the cafes and bars in Montparnasse and mixed with such artistic luminaries as Marcel Duchamp, Peggy Guggenheim and the photographer, Man Ray.  The one thing that Cedric Morris had difficulty with whilst in Paris was his dislike of crowds and so he and Lett Haines would take every opportunity to escape the hubbub of city life and although living in Paris for the next five years, it was just a base they used as the two painters, along with friends, went off on their European travels. 

The Italian Hill Town by Cedric Morris (1922)

They went to North Africa in 1921, 1925 and 1926 and spent time in Germany in 1921 before journeying to Italy where they travelled the country for most of 1922.  Cedric held his first one-man exhibition at the Casa d’Arte Bragaglia in Rome which opened at the beginning of November 1922.  Casa d’Arte Bragaglia was an exhibition space for Futurist art and a meeting point for intellectuals and artists.  Unfortunately the exhibition opening coincided with Mussolini’s March on Rome, an organized mass demonstration and a coup d’état which resulted in Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party ascending to power in the Kingdom of Italy.  Futurist art was condemned by Mussolini and his Fascist followers and the exhibition was closed down.

Patisseries and a Croissant by Cedric Morris (c.1922)

Although living in Paris, Cedric Morris held the first of his two one-man exhibitions in London. The first was in June 1924. which was held at Gower Street, and organised by the Arts League of Service, a little-known cultural organisation founded in Britain in 1919 with the singular aim of bringing art and the ‘higher forms of entertainment’ to the masses. Cedric exhibited forty-four paintings and twelve drawings.

Experiment in Textures by Cedric Morris, (1923)

It was also in the 1920s that Morris dabbled with Abstract Art.

The Brothel by Cedric Morris (1922)

Cedric Morris and Lette Haines were great “people watchers” and Parisian streets, boulevards and bars were great places to study the locals. Morris took delight in recording the activities and idiosyncrasies of the people as we can see in the paintings he completed around that time. One example is his painting entitled The Brothel.

Les Bocks à Montparnasse (1922)

Another was his café scene for his painting entitled Les Bocks à Montparnasse.

The Entry of Moral Turpitude into New York Harbour by Cedric Morris (1926)

One of Cedric Morris’ unusual paintings around this time was one he completed in 1926, entitled The Entry of Moral Turpitude into New York Harbour, a painting bought by his friend, Vita Sackville-West. This painting’s compartmented depiction is unique in Morris’ work.  The idea for this depiction came about with the dramatic and scandalous case of the time when the United States immigration authorities refused to allow a titled Englishwoman to land and enter into New York after a sea passage from England.  The Immigration officials stated that their refusal was based on their belief that she was allegedly guilty of “moral turpitude”.  Moral turpitude refers to conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals and so covers numerous types of misdemeanours.  In the case of the English women her misdemeanour was having been divorced by her husband and the man, also titled, travelling with her had been cited in the divorce case.  She and her companion are depicted in Morris’ painting standing at the bow of the ship wearing coronets.  Their transatlantic ship is being approached by uniformed officials in a boat marked “USA”.  On the quayside we see a group of men wearing black suits, large hats and white collars waiting for the ship’s arrival.  They are meant to be ministers of the church. 

A legal battle followed and their deportation order was eventually quashed.  The news of the case travelled back to England and the English Foreign Secretary at the time was asked if England should refuse entry to Britain of American divorcees.  The main painting is surrounded by fourteen smaller paintings that were meant to draw attention to contrasting impulses in America towards liberty and oppression, the latter being an obvious message in the main painting.  Other scenes depicted in the smaller peripheral paintings include Landing of Christopher Columbus, Landing of the Mayflower, fraternisation between colonists and American Indians, burning of witches, George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, assassination of Lincoln, to name but a few.  Cedric Morris, probably due to his sexuality, disliked and found offensive the more restrictive aspects of morality taught by the churches

Herbs, Salads and Seasoning by Marcel Boulestin, illustrated by Cedric Morris

Probably because of Morris’ dislike of big cities, he and Lett Haines left Paris and returned to England, staying for a time in the late summer of 1926 with his sister Nancy who lived in the Dorset village of Corfe whilst at the same time they were searching out studio space in London.  At around this time he met Marcel Boulestin who had wanted an illustrator for his soon-to-be-published book, Herbs, Salads and Seasoning.  Cedric Morris accepted the commission to illustrate the book.

The Dancing Sailor by Cedric Morris (1925)

Morris eventually found a large studio in London which catered for all his needs.  It was at 32 Great Ormond Street and early in 1927 Cedric and Lett Haines moved in.  It seems strange that Morris should leave the over-crowded French capital because of the suffocating atmosphere and yet locate his studio in London but it is thought that Lett Haines had persuaded him to make the move to the English capital as it would be possible to launch Cedric into the British art scene.  The Great Ormond Street studio became a very popular meeting place and party venue for the great and the good of the Bloomsbury Set.  The Bloomsbury Set was a group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists in the first half of the 20th century which included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.

From a Bedroom Window at 45 Brook Street, W1 by Cedric Morris (1926)

Soon after settling down in London, Morris became a member of the Seven and Five Society, an art group of seven painters and five sculptors, including artist Ben Nicholson and sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  Morris submitted many of his works to exhibitions but one of his greatest successes was at his one-man exhibition at Arthur Tooth & Sons Gallery in New Bond Street, an art gallery founded in London, in 1842 by Charles Tooth.  It was a great success with thirty-one of his thirty-nine painting selling at the private viewing and the remaining ones sold by the time the exhibition closed.

Pound Farm, Higham

Not only was Cedric Morris a great artist who loved to paint, he also had another great love – a love of horticulture.  He was a true plantsman but living in London hindered that love and so he and Lett chose the country life in order to pursue Cedric’s passion for horticulture. And so, early in 1929, Cedric and Lett took the lease of Pound Farm, Higham, Suffolk, and in February 1930 they gave up their London studio. The farm was owned by the wealthy landlady and student, Mrs Vivien Doyle Jones. In 1932 their landlady died and bequeathed the farm to Cedric Morris. It was here that Morris lovingly created a memorable garden.

Flowers by Cedric Morris (c.1926)

Morris had always been interested in floral painting and now, at Pound Farm, he found the ideal location. He also became a successful and well-known breeder of irises.

Irises and Tulips by Cedric Morris

Cedric Morris had a great passion and extensive knowledge of gardening and one of his favourite hobbies was breeding irises.  In his painting Irises and Tulips we see a colourful arrangement of irises and tulips and an impressive white Arum Lily along with two stems of the Great Yellow Gentian.  The tulips are shown as starting to collapse which hints at this painting being carried out in the early part of summer.

River Zezere, Portugal by Cedric Morris (1950)

Three miles to the south-west of Pound Farm was the small town of Dedham, which a century earlier, was the home of the great English painter, John Constable.  On April 12th 1937 Cedric Morris and Lett Haines opened the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in an old house in the centre of Dedham.  Lett-Haines taught theory, whilst Morris taught by encouragement and example.  It is interesting to note that the school was described in a prospectus as “an oasis of decency for artists outside the system”.  It was a great success from the very start and by the end of the year, it had sixty students. 

Lucian Freud by Cedric Morris (1941)

In 1939 a seventeen-year-old student by the name of Lucian Freud enrolled at the school, after he had spent a short time studying at the Central School of Art in London. 

May Flowering Irises. No.2. by Cedric Morris (1935)

In July 1939, disaster struck when the old Dedham house was destroyed by fire. Living nearby was the artist Alfred Munnings, who would become the President of the Royal Academy in 1944. He was one of England’s finest painters of horses, and an outspoken critic of Modernism which Cedric Morris practiced   He shed no tears when the Dedham art establishment of Morris and Lett Haines burnt to the ground and it was reported that he had his chauffer drive him around the burnt-out house, gloating at its destruction, and cheered loudly at the destruction of what he saw as an odious development in art . 

Benton End, the home to the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing (Photo: Benton End House & Garden Trust)

Not to be deterred by this disaster, at the end of 1939, Morris and Lett Haines discovered Benton End, a rambling 16th-century house with gardens, on the outskirts of Hadleigh in Suffolk.  The large size of the place allowed the artists to live and run their school and also accommodate their students in one place, which hadn’t been possible at the previous venue.

In 1946, Cedric Morris and Lett-Haines became founder members of Colchester Art Society and later Morris became the society’s president.  In 1947, on the death of his father, Cedric became Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris, 9th Baronet.  Deteriorating eyesight in the mid 1970s curtailed most of his art.  The Dedham school closed shortly after Lett Haines died on February 25th 1978, aged 84.

Cedric Morris continued to live at Benton End until his own death on February 8th 1982, aged 92.   The two are buried near each other at Hadleigh Cemetery in Hadleigh.  Morris’s gravestone, in front, and Lett-Haines, in back on the right.

The information for this blog came from the many websites about the life of Cedric Morris and Lett Haines as well as Richard Morphet’s Tate Gallery book on Cedric Morris, the great Welsh artist.