As the garden at Benton End begins to spring into life we bring to you fashion images from Paul Smith's Spring/ Summer 2021 menswear collection inspired by and shot at Benton End. Philip Mould discusses one of Cedric Morris' enigmatic still life paintings and resident gardener (and head gardener at the Garden Museum in London), Matt Collins fills us in on plant discoveries made over the winter months.

The Orange Chair, 1944

Comment by Philip Mould Gallery

This brooding still life was painted at Benton End during the Second World War and is one of Morris’ most enigmatic works from this date. 

 In this painting Morris explores the still life genre with sophistication and an intimate understanding of the importance of harmonious relationships between colour and form. The intuitive arrangement of objects within the work is a testament to Morris’ keen eye for successful juxtaposition. The zinc-covered table upon which the ornaments rest can be seen in another work from this date entitled Iris Seedlings (Tate).[1] 

 The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing was open all year between 1939 and the winter of 1946.[2] Ordinarily the school was open from April to October each year with a period of rest in which Morris and Lett travelled extensively. In 1944, the school at Benton End was in full swing and Morris, in painting this work, turned away from explicitly depicting the garden in order to capture a quiet moment of interior order. It is a work bound to life at Benton End during the war and one that is one of Morris’ most enduring in spirit and composition. 

[1]G Reynolds and D Grace (eds.) Benton End Remembered: Cedric Morris, Arthur Lett-Haines and the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing (Norwich: Unicorn Press, 2002) p. 17 

[2] Letter from Arthur Lett-Haines to Mrs McGregor Mills in Mexico, dated 19th November 1946 [Tate Archive: 8317.1.3.70] 

Watch video on this painting
Over the last 12 months Philip Mould has been sharing stories and art, including several works by Cedric Morris, in the hugely popular 'Art in isolation' series. 
Catch-up with the series by using the link below.

Art in Isolation - Series catch-up

Design Inspiration

Benton End - muse for British fashion designer 

Benton End has long influenced artists and designers alike. Most recently it captured the imagination of designer Derek Morten for Paul Smith's Spring Summer Collection 2021.

Morten’s fashion mood boards (which recorded his primary sources for the collection) referred to Cedric Morris and his tall, bearded irises that he bred in muted tones during the 1950s. International design agency ABOUD + ABOUD returned to Morten’s mood boards choosing to shoot the collection at the source of the inspiration – Benton End.

One of Britain’s most esteemed designers, Paul Smith designs are described as being “underpinned by a dry British sense of humour: quirky but not frivolous, eccentric but not silly”.
Morten has worked as Paul Smith’s leading designer for over 4 decades, starting his professional career with City Lights Studio. It was here that he designed the acclaimed box-jacketed suit worn by David Bowie, photographed by Mick Rock for the back of his 1973 album ‘Pin Ups’.

(Detail) Pin Ups, David Bowie, 1973. Suit by Derek Morten for City Lights Studio. Photo: Mick Rock
David Bowie accumulated an extensive art collection during his lifetime which interestingly, included
several works by Cedric Morris.

'The Italian Hill Town' painted by Morris in 1922 was auctioned following Bowie's death in 2016.
Image courtesy of © Philip Mould & Company

Photographed by Julian Broad, hair by Peter Smith, styling by Matthew Lucas and production by Chloe Ridley.
All photos feature Huddie Hamper, model, artist and son of the prolific creative Billy Childish.
Images courtesy of ABOUD + ABOUD

Bringing them home

Matt Collins reports on plant discoveries and reuniting Cedric's plants at Benton End

I’m not sure I can remember a year when I’ve felt more poised and eager for the ground breaking and seed sowing of Spring. New to East Anglia I ask the question, is it always so chilly in mid- March? The mornings here at Benton End, often bright but still hovering low around the 4 degree mark, remind me that, yes, it is still too soon; be patient.

Sweet peas, at least, have begun on the windowsill, mingling soft shoots with the chitting potatoes as together they get a head start on seeds destined for the veg beds. But these are no ordinary sweet peas: they arrived in the post some weeks ago from landscape designer Dan Pearson, collected in folded paper with a note describing a circuitous journey that began at — and has now returned to — Benton End. 


'Cedric's Pea' kindly passed on by garden designer and writer Dan Pearson.
Terracotta pots found in Cedric's old greenhouse give the sweet peas a perfect start.

They are a ‘pure’ Lathyrus odorata, of heavily scented plum-violet, first gathered by Cedric Morris on a trip to Sicily. Morris, known for his generosity with plants, later shared a handful of subsequent seed with former Gardens Editor of Country Life (and regular Benton End visitor) Tony Venison, who in turn shared alike with a friend, Duncan Scott. A chance meeting between Scott and Pearson saw a further exchange of seeds, and Morris’s sweet peas found a home in Dan’s garden at Hillside, near Bath; content, no doubt, sharing ground with the numerous Cedric Morris irises already growing there.
Bulbs by post - Galanthus and Narcissus sent 'in the green' from Morlas Plants.

Plants returning to Benton End is the present theme. Though we are not looking to return the garden to its former incarnation, or to recreate a time and a certain energy that cannot be recreated, it feels enlivening to see some of Benton End’s floral residents repatriated. As is well-known, Morris was fairly unique in appointing a plants executor (friend and horticultural comrade, Jenny Robinson) to dig up and disperse the majority of his garden plants after his death — parcelled away in a spirit of continued generosity to friends and plant collectors across the country. 

Frances Mount's cottage in Suffolk - Gardener and friend to Cedric Morris and Lett Haines.
Matt digging and dividing herbaceous perennials in Frances' garden, given to her by Cedric.

Thanks to a call out by the editor of this newsletter, Lucy Skellorn, their descendants — divisions, seeds, cuttings and seedlings — are beginning to trickle back. From Frances Mount, who assisted Morris in the garden at Benton End through its latter years, we now have plants including dainty Anemonella thalictroides, Geranium malviflorum and Iris foetidissima var. citrina. Fiona Bonny, who also gardened with Morris, has kindly donated, among others, divisions of pretty Asphodelus lutea and an intriguing giant hogweed. And in the post just recently arrived beautifully packaged bulbs of Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’ and the two snowdrops born of Benton: Galanthus ‘Benton Magnet’ and G. ‘Cedric’s Prolific’. These were sent by Jane Rowlinson of fantastic bulb specialists, ‘Morlas Plants’ in Shropshire, suppliers of rare snowdrops and erythroniums, predominantly.
Leucojum vernum var. carpathicum in the walled garden.

All plants have for now been accommodated and labelled within two stock beds in the top garden — one shadier than the other — the digging-over of which was among the tasks that have kept me both warm and occupied through the recent winter months. Since Christmas such tasks have mainly been of the ‘housekeeping’ variety; tidying away leaves, trimming up fallen trees, preparing compost bins, tidying the greenhouse etc; all the while treading carefully enough so as not to hinder plants both precious and inconspicuous.
Iris tuberosa.
Anemone pavonina.
Narcissus italicus.

 But we’re past the Vernal Equinox now and Spring is very nearly with us; in the walled garden buds are colouring on tall imperial fritillaries, leaf-break is visible in the trees; narcissi are in flower — including the particularly fragrant and multi-flowered N. italicus possibly collected by Cedric on his Mediterranean travels — and the mixed whites, violets and magentas of Corydalis bulbosa once again pool below Morris’s old medlar. Meanwhile, anemones, widow irises and some of the more diminutive and fragile fritillaries that were once a revered spectacle at Benton End are steadily rising from the undergrowth, and I hope to report more exciting blooms in the months to come.

Corydalis bulbosa under the Medlar tree in the walled garden.
Are you in possession of plants that came from Benton End?
We are looking to reunite plants once grown by Cedric.
If you can help with this we would love to hear from you.
Contact Benton End
Old Photos of Benton End

- Can you help?
Cedric Morris outside Benton End with Euphorbias.
Photograph courtesy of Frances Mount

We're on the search for old photographs of Benton End - the house, garden and any of those that visited.
Perhaps you live locally and took photos at the open garden days hosted by Cedric?

As we continue to research and document Benton End we are on the look out for more images that can be enjoyed, documented and added to the archives at the Garden Museum.

If you have any photographs you'd like to share please get in contact.

Contact Benton End
The Benton End Team

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