Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Cedric Morris

I must confess the main reason I like Swansea artist Cedric Morris is because he was a fop with cool hair. He was certainly no stylistic innovator. Nor was he a genius with a prodigious talent. In fact he ended up becoming an artist after attempts to join the army, and later to become a singer, failed. He even endured stints as a dishwasher and bellboy in New York.

In 1918 he met Arthur Lett-Haines who would become his lifelong companion and lover. Lett-Haines was married at the time but he soon ditched the missus and the two young gentlemen went to live in Cornwall. In 1920 they re-located to Paris where they mixed in the same circles as Hemmingway, Marcel Duchamp, Nancy Cunard and Man Ray. For the next 5 years Morris learnt to become a painter studying at the Academies Moderne and La Grande Chaumiere. Before long he had established his own painting style.

Following successful exhibitions in London in 1925 and 1927, Morris and Lett-Haines moved back to the English capital, setting up a studio in Great Ormond Street. They became a fixture on the London arts scene and were famous for hosting dazzling parties. However, Morris hankered after the country life, as he wanted to pursue his keen interest in horticulture. In 1929 he and Lett-Haines leased Pond Farm in Suffolk, giving up their London studio altogether a year later.

Morris turned Pound Farm into a rural idyll, developing the gardens in spectacular fashion. He would soon attain an international reputation as a plantsman and would even have flowers named after him. But Morris never forgot his own roots. In the thirties he regularly visited Wales on painting trips; initiated a touring exhibition of Welsh art; and taught at an arts centre in Merthyr Tydfil. He also joined the Labour party, moved by the plight of the people in the south Wales Valleys during the Depression.

In 1937 Morris and Lett-Haines opened the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, at Dedham. When the building burned down two years later the school was re-established at Benton End. Its two most noted students were Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling. No house-style prevailed at Benton End - artists were instead encouraged to pursue their own vision. Lessons took place outdoors amongst the wandering peacocks and cockatoos. There was also much dancing to Latin-American gramophone records.

Cedric Morris died in 1982. He is most remembered for his flower paintings and portraits. Above is his portrait of the artist Lucian Freud completed in 1940 and which is now in the Tate collection.