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This month marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Cedric Morris.
In this newsletter, we celebrate his life, legacy and art.

A recently opened exhibition at Colchester's award-winning gallery Firstsite showcases the inspiring role Benton End played in influencing the artists who lived and worked there. It also celebrates the beauty of the East Anglian landscape and the importance of creative spaces. Programme, Exhibitions and Events Manager Kirsty White talks through how this interactive exhibition was put together.

In 1984, two years after the death of Cedric Morris the Tate hosted the first presentation of his work in a public gallery in London. Art historian and curator Richard Morphet was the Deputy Keeper of the Modern Collection at this time and curated the show. In this newsletter, Richard recalls meeting Cedric.

As the garden begins to wake after its winter sleep, Matt Collins has recorded the first few plants of note in the walled garden.

Philip Mould & Company presents artwork by Cedric Morris and we have news of your chance to hear the inspiring Iris enthusiast Sarah Cook talk about her collection bred by Cedric Morris.

We are Hiring

Image courtesy of Eva Nemeth.

We are seeking an exceptional Project Director to lead the significant new arts, horticultural, and community initiative at Benton End in Hadleigh, Suffolk. The Project Director will oversee the transformation of Benton End, the former residence of artist Cedric Morris, to a thriving cultural and community venue in the heart of Suffolk.

This position would suit an experienced professional from the cultural sector, with experience of delivering National Lottery Heritage Fund projects, and running arts venues, museums, or heritage sites.

Closing date for applications - Monday 28th February 2021 at 5pm.

First interviews will be held the week commencing 21st March 2021.
 

Learn more about the role

Cabbages 1953

 
Film by Philip Mould & Company
 
Cabbages (1953) by Cedric Morris (1889-1982). Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 in. (101.5 x 127 cm) .
Previously with Philip Mould & Company.
In this short film, Philip explains why this recently acquired piece by the genius of flower painting is amongst the artist’s most accomplished late works. Part-way between surrealism and expressionism, Morris presents us with a joyful scene of cavorting cabbages against a surreal mountainous backdrop.
 
Film Courtesy of Philip Mould & Company
Explore more works by Cedric Morris at Philip Mould & Company

Meeting Cedric

 
Curator and art historian Richard Morphet recalls meeting Cedric Morris and his retrospective at the Tate.
 
Cedric Morris in his garden at Benton End
Photograph by Richard Morphet taken on June 2nd, 1981.
I met Cedric only three times, but recall them with delight. The first was in December 1980, when Maggi Hambling took me to Benton End to meet him, for a particular purpose. As a Tate Gallery curator, I was shocked that Cedric, already ninety, was still unrepresented in the national collection. A new Tate Director made it possible to seek to identify possible pictures for acquisition. The day of the visit was dark, misty and bitterly cold, but a cheerful doorstep welcome from Maudie O’Malley was followed by a delicious lunch cooked by Millie and eaten in the house’s one warm room. Then we needed overcoats indoors to look at painting after painting, which was a revelation. Early in 1981 the Tate bought three pictures, a double portrait from Cedric himself, and from private collections his portrait of Lucian Freud and a magnificent painting of iris seedlings.
 
Millie Hayes (nee Gomersall), Cedric Morris and Maggi Hambling at Benton End, 16th December 1980. Photograph by Richard Morphet.

In April 1981 I was among innumerable friends paying homage to Cedric at the party for his large retrospective exhibition at Blond Fine Art in London. Lucian Freud wrote in the catalogue: ‘I have always admired his paintings and everything about him’ and Maggi Hambling that: ‘He is an example to any young painter of the necessity and wisdom of being oneself, above all and despite fashion’. Finally, in June 1981 I spent a day at Benton End in wonderful summer weather, conditions opposite to those of my first visit. Discussing his Tate picture of irises Cedric said painting was ultimately more important to him than his work with plants, but that the two were complementary. They cannot be separated and it is heartening that the ever-widening admiration of his achievement is for all sides of his work.

 

Millie Hayes and Cedric Morris at Benton End.
Photograph by Richard Morphet taken on June 2nd, 1981.

In England, national revival of interest in Cedric’s painting became unmistakable as the 1970s advanced. The art establishment at last re-awoke to the merit of distinctive representational art more concerned with intense content than with stylistic innovation. In 1982, I was hanging the Tate’s retrospective exhibition of the painter Meredith Frampton (itself a sign of this revival) when news came of the deaths, two days apart, of Cedric and of Ben Nicholson (who fifty-six years earlier, with his wife Winifred, had proposed Cedric and Christopher Wood for membership of the Seven & Five Society). Two years later I curated Cedric’s own Tate retrospective. In researching his life and work his insights would have been invaluable. But though he could not have been more charming when we met, I suspect Cedric would have been a reluctant respondent to more searching enquiry. I am thus all the more frustrated to have missed meeting his remarkable partner Lett Haines, a fund of information for whom championing Cedric’s achievement in art was a life mission. Researching the exhibition did, however, disclose the amazing world of Cedric’s and Lett’s enormous circle. Their insights overflowed, as did their love of Cedric and Lett, of the work of each and of the unique world they created together at Benton End.
 

Cedric Morris in his garden at Benton End.
Photograph by Richard Morphet taken on June 2nd, 1981.

Tate Kids animation

 
Forming part of their series on who's who in art, Tate Kids have produced this film about Cedric Morris,
his life, loves and art.

 
'Becoming an Artist: Cedric Morris', Tate Kids, 2021.
A film supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies at Tate Kids.
Explore Tate Kids films - Meet The Artists
Life with Art: Benton End and the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing

Firstsite Gallery examines Benton End’s remarkable, inclusive, artistic environment and ethos in its latest exhibition.
By Kirsty White
Cedric Morris in his garden, c.1957 by Glyn Morgan (1926-2015).
Ipswich Borough Council Museums and Galleries. Estate of Glyn Morgan.

In December 2021 Firstsite opened a new exhibition showcasing the network of artists and cultural figures with links to Benton End, its influence in the formation of the Colchester Art Society, and the inspirational way of life and approach to teaching and gardening encouraged by Morris and Lett-Haines.

Photograph by Jayne Lloyd courtesy of Firstsite.

Made in partnership with Colchester Art Society, with support from We Are The Minories, ‘Life with Art: Benton End and the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing’ features over a hundred artworks, including works by Morris and Lett-Haines, drawn from collections from across the UK. Alongside these are artworks by artists who studied at Benton End including David Carr, Lucian Freud, Maggi Hambling, Frances Hodgkin, Valerie Thornton, and Denis Wirth-Miller.

Photograph by Jayne Lloyd courtesy of Firstsite.

The exhibition came about through a proposal from the Colchester Art Society, who as well as guiding the selection of loans from public collections, asked their members if they had any works they could lend. The response was staggering—with over twenty people coming back to lend over sixty-five works.

Small Head (1973) by Lucian Freud, Arts Council Collection.

Some of my favourite works include an intimate drawing of Lett Haines asleep by Maggi Hambling (Lett Asleep, 1975), a book cover design by Richard Chopping, and a beautiful Lucien Freud portrait on loan from the Arts Council Collection (Small Head, 1973). We were also very privileged to be able to display a series of ten photographs taken of the contemporary Benton End garden by Matt Collins.

Photograph by Jayne Lloyd courtesy of Firstsite.

For a long time, Firstsite has been interested in a holistic approach to creativity, embracing not only visual art but cooking, dance, gardening, and performance. This was one of our chief interests in the exhibition and Benton End as a site, as well as the unique way Lett and Morris ran the school, encouraging everyone to work alongside each other, student and teacher alike. As a nod to this in the exhibition, visitors have the opportunity to make artwork and hang it alongside the so-called ‘professional’ artists in one of the frames provided.

Photograph by Jayne Lloyd courtesy of Firstsite.

Throughout the exhibition, Firstsite was fortunate to work with Lucy Skellorn and Matt Collins, and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their time and advice.
Firstsite is currently putting together an ambitious events programme around the exhibition.

‘Life with Art: Benton End and the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing’ continues until Monday 18 April 2022.
Learn more about the exhibition
A film exploring Benton End and the Life with Art exhibition at Firstsite Gallery.
Courtesy of Firstsite.

Event:
Sarah Cook talk

 
Cedric Morris - Friends, Pets and Places
 
Cedric Morris, Image courtesy of Sarah Cook.
This talk by Sarah Cook is one of several events being hosted by Firstsite Gallery in Colchester as part of their current Life with Art : Benton End and the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing exhibition.

The former head gardener of Sissinghurst Castle and National Collection holder of Irises bred by Cedric will give an introduction to Morris’ life, the irises he bred, and explain how the names he gave the plants give us an insight into many aspects of Morris’ life.

 
Iris 'Benton Menace'
Image courtesy of Sarah Cook.
Studio Talks, Firstsite, Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester, CO1 1JH.
Thursday 3rd March at 7 pm.

 
Book tickets

Winter Magic

 
Scenes in the garden at Benton End
taken by the Garden Museum's Head Gardener,  Matt Collins.

 
Snowdrops and winter aconites mingle between the aged stems of Elaeagnus 'Quicksilver', a shrub said to have been introduced to horticulture by Cedric Morris. 
Leucojum vernum var. carpathicum
Hellebores and snowdrops cover the floor beneath the ancient medlar tree.
Looking back at Benton End across the Brett valley.
Burdock seed heads in the morning light.
Images courtesy of Matt Collins.

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Benton End House & Garden Trust is a private limited company registered in England and Wales. Registration number: 11807625.


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