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We are grateful to Clive Lundquist and Sarah Cook for their kind assistance when writing this catalogue note.



Cedric Morris’ flower paintings from the 1930s are generally considered his most successful works. Painted in 1932, soon after Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines moved to the country from London, Foxglove is superb example of Morris’s creativity from this defining period and the floral exuberance for which he is now internationally famed.



Morris’s painting, much like his gardening, was primarily motivated by a desire to capture the beauty inherent in naturally contrasting forms and tones. The delightful cacophony of differing organic shapes in this outstanding work is a testament to this sentiment, and his plantsman’s eye in delineating a host of species within one composition. Thick swathes of thoughtfully applied paint not only demonstrate his understanding of natural structure of nature but position him as a pioneering master of emotional expression through colour. Compositionally, each interlocking shape and...


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We are grateful to Clive Lundquist and Sarah Cook for their kind assistance when writing this catalogue note.



Cedric Morris’ flower paintings from the 1930s are generally considered his most successful works. Painted in 1932, soon after Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines moved to the country from London, Foxglove is superb example of Morris’s creativity from this defining period and the floral exuberance for which he is now internationally famed.



Morris’s painting, much like his gardening, was primarily motivated by a desire to capture the beauty inherent in naturally contrasting forms and tones. The delightful cacophony of differing organic shapes in this outstanding work is a testament to this sentiment, and his plantsman’s eye in delineating a host of species within one composition. Thick swathes of thoughtfully applied paint not only demonstrate his understanding of natural structure of nature but position him as a pioneering master of emotional expression through colour. Compositionally, each interlocking shape and undulating curve fit together tightly, like an expertly planted flower-bed.[1]



From the top left of the canvas, various foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) can be identified. A very dark brown bearded iris melts into the background, adjacent to a bold, blue larkspur which springs forth just behind a plum-coloured opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Underneath this is a yellow snapdragon (Antirrhynum hybrids) and pink/white granny’s bonnet (Aquilegia). A darker, indigo larkspur and opium poppy pod stand proudly in the top right of the canvas. The yellow foxglove at the base is Digitalis grandiflora.



Blooming up from the lower centre of the canvas, one white, three brown and a blue Spanish iris (Bulbous iris Xiphium) are identifiable. Former Head Gardener at Sissinghurst, Sarah Cook, has suggested that these irises predate Morris’ breeding programme. It is possible, therefore, that this painting is an experimental demonstration of the possibilities that irises offer, which he was later to explore well into the 1940s. Cedric himself believed that a flower painter should convey;…the esoteric meaning of plants. This might be called “vision” and reality, as opposed to realism. Reality is knowledge and realism is only the appearance of knowledge.[2]



Most striking, perhaps, is the pink iris. Whilst there is dispute over the precise identification of this flower, it has been suggested that it may be an example of ‘Edward of Windsor’, which was only registered in the mid-1940s. It is his deep understanding of irises, such as the aforementioned Bulbous iris Xiphium, which enabled Morris to refine this new breed. It is known that Morris cultivated and concealed new breeds, however this flower is particularly interesting given his sympathies towards Edward of Windsor. Cedric viewed himself as outside the establishment and the class structure, and identified with Edward VIII’s questioning of traditional constitutional conventions, whilst sharing vehemently his concerns regarding unemployment throughout Wales.[3] Edward sympathised with the people of Wales, and on a visit to the Merthyr Valley, South Wales, in mid-1936, Edward VIII announced, ‘These people were brought here by these works, employment must be found for them.’’[4] The prominent position of the pink ‘Edward of Windsor’ may well subtly hint towards Morris’ progressive social stance and sympathetic leaning towards Edward VIII’s societal views.



Morris’ understanding of colour combined with his deep knowledge of flowers has earned him a reputation as one of the most accomplished flower painters of the twentieth century. Rightly called an ‘Artist Plantsmen’, Morris manages to capture not just an accurate likeness but also a sense of character in his flower paintings. These works are often likened to portraits, each with a personality and a story to tell. The richness of his floral depictions also play a part in this illusion. Morris would always work on canvas, which had the necessary ‘give’, and applied his paint unsparingly, working in a series of small strokes horizontally, line by line, from the top left corner of the canvas to the bottom right. Millie Hayes, student at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, recalls Morris advising students not to draw with paint but rather to ‘bounce’ with it across the canvas.[5] It is this unique technique that infuses Morris’ works with a liveliness and a direct sense of presence, as though the viewer has been transported into the garden at Benton End.



At his funeral a close friend of Morris, Canon John Rutherford, said ‘I remember him saying that in his mind his paintings and his flowers were very closely integrated; together they were the expression of his philosophy of life.’[6]

[1] A. Lambirth. 2018. Cedric Morris: Artists Planstman. London: Garden Museum, p.36.

[2] C. Morris. May 1942. ‘Concerning Flower Painting’, in The Studio.

[3] H. St. Clair. 2019. ‘The Draw of Wales’, A Lesson in Art & Life: The Colourful World of Cedric Morris & Arthur Lett-Haines. London: Pimpernel Press Limited, p.85.

[4] Edward VIII quoted in St. Clair, A Lesson in Art & Life, p.85.

[5] Morphet, R. 1984. Cedric Morris. London: The Tate Gallery, p.90.

[6] C. J. Rutherford quoted in Lambirth, Cedric Morris, p.36.

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500 Years of British Art