When I arrived in Suffolk and began visiting gardens and meeting local horticultural legends including the then Country Life garden editor Tony Venison, Frances Mount (one of Cedric Morris’s garden students), Beth Chatto and the late Jenny Robinson, I heard Cedric Morris’s name frequently. Other gardeners regularly mentioned him and plants that had come from his garden and following his death in 1984 Jenny Robinson was his horticultural executor.
Together he and Jenny with others had established the RHS Iris Group, which was later expanded to the Iris and Lily Group. This year, the East Anglian Garden Group, which arose from these early connections, celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Soon after his death the Tate mounted a major retrospective exhibition. I was fortunate later to see some of Cedric Morris’s paintings in various settings and it was noticeable that prices for the paintings began to rise. I didn’t even think about owning a painting and now they are way out of my league. Many years ago, though, I did buy a poster of one of his lovely works of a group of iris seedlings in a vase… and it gives me much pleasure. But this week I will be able to see many of his paintings as, in addition to the one already running at Gainsborough’s House Museum in my home-town, there are two major exhibitions opening in London.
The first to open was in Sudbury at Gainsborough’s House Museum, and it runs until 17 June 2018. Curated by Louisa Brouwers, it showcases work in the significant collection of paintings and drawings gifted to Gainsborough’s House in 2017.
This week (on 18 April) the two London exhibitions open: one is at the Garden Museum and the other at the gallery of Philip Mould & Company in Pall Mall.
Born in Wales, but always claimed by Suffolk where he set up his home and established the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, Sir Cedric Morris was a contemporary and friend of artists including Paul Nash, Christopher Wood and Ben and Winifred Nicholson.
Although a painter of landscape, still-life and portraits, it is probably for his depiction of plants that he is best known. His interest in and enjoyment of the plants that he brought into his garden offers me something that I find intimate and emotional.
In 1937 he founded the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, which was attended by Lucian Freud and, later, by Maggi Hambling. Last week I heard Maggi talking at an event at Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury, about her life as a student at Benton End. It was wonderful to hear at first-hand the excitement of weekends and holidays she spent there as a 15-year-old.
At Benton End, which he shared with his partner, the artist Arthur Lett-Haines, he cultivated at least 90 new varieties of iris. Named for friends and pets, many have disappeared from our gardens. Numbers of them have been hunted down, propagated and brought back to public attention by Plant Heritage Collection Holder Sarah Cook, notably for her gold-medal winning exhibit at the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show (Sarah is giving one of the four Cedric Morris Lectures on 8 May at the Garden Museum – see below for details).
The exhibition at the Garden Museum is curated by Andrew Lambirth and runs from 18 April to 22 July. It shows how Cedric Morris’s two disciplines intertwined to form one of the most remarkable artistic lives of the 20th century. It is accompanied by the four Cedric Morris Lectures.
I am so looking forward to see these paintings, the majority of which are on loan from private collections and have never been seen in public before.
The exhibition at Philip Mould & Company runs from 18 April to 5 July and highlights some of his most significant works from his travels at home and abroad. Travel was an important part of his artistic life and his life as a collector and breeder of plants and flowers.
Cedric Morris at Gainsborough’s House
Until 17 June 2018
46 Gainsborough Street, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2EU
Cedric Morris: Beyond the Garden Wall
An Exhibition of the Travel Paintings of Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris
18 April–22 July
Philip Mould & Company, 18-19 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5LU
Telephone: 020 7499 6818
Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman
18 April–22 July
Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB
Details of four Cedric Morris Lectures
Tuesday 1 May
The Cedric Morris Lectures: Discovering Cedric Morris with Philip Mould OBE
Tuesday 8 May
The Cedric Morris Lectures: Irises, Gardening and Friends
Tuesday 5 June
The Cedric Morris Lectures: Reflections and Reminiscences
Tuesday 19 June
The Cedric Morris Lectures: Plant: Exploring the botanical world through art