By the 1960s, the art school that Cedric Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines had established at Benton End (the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing) had quietened down. Though students still came and went, Morris and Lett (as he was known) had more time to themselves and spent it attending to their bountiful garden, of which is the subject of many of Morris’ works. Known as an ‘Artist Plantsman’ Morris had a strong interest in varieties of plants and took this as inspiration for many of his works. From time to time Morris would sell to bulb and seed firms and would use the money, alongside the earnings gained from sold paintings, to fund his extended trips to warmer climates.[1] Each winter Morris would travel abroad in search of subject matter to paint and exotic plant seeds to take back to his home. As Christopher Neve and Tony Venison note in their article on Benton End, the garden...

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By the 1960s, the art school that Cedric Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines had established at Benton End (the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing) had quietened down. Though students still came and went, Morris and Lett (as he was known) had more time to themselves and spent it attending to their bountiful garden, of which is the subject of many of Morris’ works. Known as an ‘Artist Plantsman’ Morris had a strong interest in varieties of plants and took this as inspiration for many of his works. From time to time Morris would sell to bulb and seed firms and would use the money, alongside the earnings gained from sold paintings, to fund his extended trips to warmer climates.[1] Each winter Morris would travel abroad in search of subject matter to paint and exotic plant seeds to take back to his home. As Christopher Neve and Tony Venison note in their article on Benton End, the garden was a ‘collector’s cabinet which came to include many discoveries on expeditions abroad’.[2] Like Morris’ garden, through his paintings we are provided with a unique insight into the life and subjects that inspired Morris along the way. 

During the winter of 1973 Morris returned to Cyprus. Having visited once before in 1967 and painted works such as Turkish Village in Cyprus, characterised by his bold use of rich violet colours, Morris was clearly inspired by the Mediterranean landscape. Though it is unclear, it is likely that Morris would have painted en plein air given the confident strokes and knowledge of his direct observational method. Morris was known to ‘meander about slowly, watching things move, a ladybird on a leaf, someone rubbing lavender into a basket, an altercation between gardeners…a twinkle lurking in his eye’.[3] The meticulous way in which Morris worked by applying little strokes starting from the top left corner and working across downwards, gives the painting its unique form of composition and the characteristic style that defines Morris’ oeuvre. However, it is Morris’ intense and original use of colour that imbues this work with personality. In Cyprus Garden the array of flowers in rich hues of red, pink and purple paired with the blues and greens of Mediterranean shrubbery provide an accurate insight into the inspiration that Morris drew from when abroad. It is the compelling relationship between the colours that Morris bestows so delightfully and the simple mode of representing material and composition that infuses this scene with a personal vision and a direct sense of presence. It is the essential richness of this representation that gives us a sense of the fulfilment that Morris gained from his trips abroad.

The resultant work provides an interesting point of comparison between many of his works made at his home in Benton End. The specimens that Morris continued to bring home, proceeding to cultivate and paint them, contributed to both the magnificent display that was his garden and the host of paintings that accompanied. Indeed, references to these Mediterranean travels were to be found throughout Benton End, both in the garden where Morris attempted to grow these rare and unusual plants and in the kitchen where Lett would prepare the food. The inspiration drawn from travelling continues to play a large part in the legacy Morris leaves behind. Just as Morris was a highly regarded teacher of art, he disseminated his knowledge and discoveries of plants to fellow enthusiasts, noting that he was not the creator of something but as a link in a chain of plantsmen and women who would continue the work after he was gone.[4] Morris’ eyesight began to fail soon after he made this trip and he stopped painting in 1975, his works can be seen as an extension of his lifelong affinity with plants and the inquisitive nature he took with him on his travels. To this day, they provide a tender insight into his working methods and his unique ability to capture the inherent beauty in nature. This painting clearly demonstrates the values that Morris upheld most in his art and life; colour, form, plants and travel.

[1] Morphet, R., Cedric Morris (London: The Tate Gallery, 1984), p.66.

[2] Neve, C. and Venison, T., ‘A Painter in his Garden’, Country Life, 17 may 1979, pp.1532-4.

[3] Letter to Morphet, R. on 19th August 1983, from Mrs Chloe Tyner, daughter of Madame Elspeth Champcommunal with whom Cedric stayed in Vaucluse at Giverny.

[4] Morphet, Cedric Morris, p.66.

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500 Years of British Art