This atmospheric painting of rooftops at Tavira was painted by Cedric Morris in the early months of 1959 when he was travelling around Portugal. The ambitious scale of this work reflects Morris’s fondness of this country (he travelled to Portugal numerous times throughout his life), and within the context of his ‘travel’ paintings it can be considered one his best-known works, having been exhibited in his major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1984.

During the winter months when the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing was closed, Morris would travel abroad to warmer climes where he would paint landscapes and collect exotic plants and seeds for cultivation back in England. Throughout the 1950s Morris travelled extensively across Europe and North Africa, sometimes with Lett, but mainly with friend and fellow plantsman Nigel Scott, to whom he was introduced by the plantswoman and garden designer Beth Chatto in around 1952. The two men became close friends and...

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This atmospheric painting of rooftops at Tavira was painted by Cedric Morris in the early months of 1959 when he was travelling around Portugal. The ambitious scale of this work reflects Morris’s fondness of this country (he travelled to Portugal numerous times throughout his life), and within the context of his ‘travel’ paintings it can be considered one his best-known works, having been exhibited in his major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1984.

During the winter months when the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing was closed, Morris would travel abroad to warmer climes where he would paint landscapes and collect exotic plants and seeds for cultivation back in England. Throughout the 1950s Morris travelled extensively across Europe and North Africa, sometimes with Lett, but mainly with friend and fellow plantsman Nigel Scott, to whom he was introduced by the plantswoman and garden designer Beth Chatto in around 1952. The two men became close friends and when Scott died unexpectedly of canary fever in Tenerife in January 1957, Morris was devastated. Portugal was one of their favourite travel destinations and following Scott’s death Morris continued to visit, often updating Lett with his movements via postcards and letters. A postcard sent to Lett (who was staying in nearby Lagos) from Morris when he was in Tavira is dated 17 February 1959 and thus enables us to date this painting more precisely.[1]

As well as being interested in nature, Morris was also interested in history and rarely missed an opportunity to paint local landmarks or cultural sites when he came across them. In the present painting of Tavira Morris gives great prominence to the Church of Saint Mary of the Castle which was built in the thirteenth century and houses numerous treasures including brightly prized sculpture and the tomb of notable Portuguese conqueror Paio Peres Correia who died in 1275.

The composition of this work is arranged in dense, rhythmic combination of angular forms painted in warm, earthy colours. Morris, as is well recorded, was not concerned with precise topographical detail in his landscape works and instead tried to translate with paint the overall impression of the view he was painting. This simple, direct approach to his subject matter combined with his masterful use of colour and texture reaffirms Morris’s reputation as one of the most original British artists of the twentieth century.

[1] Postcard from Cedric Morris to Arthur Lett-Haines, 17 February 1959, Tate Archive [TGA 8317/1/4/163]

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500 Years of British Art