Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris, Bt. (1889-1982)
The land of the lotus-eaters derives from Homeric Greek mythology and has long been ascribed to the island of Djerba, where Odysseus and his men are stranded following a storm sent by Zeus...
Morris frequently travelled to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia during the latter half of the 1920s. The present work was painted on the tranquil and historically rich island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. Until recently, this painting was titled Olive Trees; however, research has uncovered the original title of the work which, when translated from the French, means ‘land of the lotus-eaters’. The land of the lotus-eaters derives from Homeric Greek mythology and has long been ascribed to the island of Djerba, where Odysseus and his men are stranded following a storm sent by Zeus. However, despite painting the work here, Morris avoids direct association with mythological antiquity by choosing to depict olive trees in an enclosed garden and not the lotus plant with which the island has been traditionally associated.
The species of true date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), which has a palm trunk and green sprouting leaves, can be clearly identified in this work. This species of palm is only found in or near North Africa. In addition to this, Morris depicts the silver poplar (Populus alba), a species of tree native to the Iberian Peninsula, Morocco and Tunisia. Morris slightly exaggerates the colours in this work to heighten the sense of vibrancy in an otherwise scorched and arid landscape. The olive trees have been painted as if parched by the sun, indicated by Morris’s use of purple and white as opposed to the expected greens and browns.
Morris reinforces the sense of foreground, middle and background to great effect by emphasising the inclined slopes of the hill flanking the olive trees. In this respect, he harmonises perspective, composition and colour perfectly. In many ways, this work closely resembles Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun (1889) (Minneapolis Museum of Art: 51.7) by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Morris is working in a modernist tradition that harks back to the post-impressionist tendencies explored by European painters towards the end of the 19th century. The resultant work is one that is full of character and a highly individualised sense of pattern, established by the organic forms to which he was persistently drawn.