A rediscovered painting by the artist-plantsman Cedric Morris (1889-1982) will be sold at an Essex auctioneers, with proceeds from its sale helping to preserve the nearby 16th-century Benton End House, home to the influential East Anglian School of Painting in the mid-20th century.
The painting entitled Foxgloves depicts blooms of pink and purple foxgloves and other English garden flowers. It is coming up for sale at Sworders auction of Modern British and 20th Century Art on October 22 with an estimate of £30,000-50,000.
The seller plans to give part of the proceeds to the Benton End House and Garden Trust – a new charity that intends setting up the former home of Sir Cedric Morris, a rambling £1.3m ‘Suffolk pink’ farmhouse with Tudor origins on the outskirts of Hadleigh, as a centre for artistic and horticultural education.
The 1932 oil was painted just three years after Morris and his lifelong partner, Arthur Lett-Haines, chose the country life over a London studio.
The couple took the lease on their first Suffolk home (Pound Farm in Higham) in 1929, followed in 1937 by the founding of the avant-garde East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, first in Dedham and then at Benton End House.
The heyday of Benton End was the two decades from 1940, when the art school was at its most active and the three acres of garden at their spectacular best. Morris was unique as both a painter and horticulturalist of equal stature: while painting and teaching he cultivated more than 90 new named varieties of iris (many carrying the prefix Benton).
The vendor of the painting says both her father and grandfather knew the artist, and both stayed at Benton End; her father in particular was encouraged by Morris to dig around in the cellars in pursuit of archaeological finds. The picture has been in the family since at least the early 1960s.
“Growing up, it was just one unframed painting among many hung on various walls. The name Cedric Morris meant little to us,” the vendor recalled. “After my grandfather died in 1989, the painting came to me and my brother. Though it’s a small and beautiful part of our family history, we now feel it’s time to pass it on to others who can also take pleasure in it.”
Like most artists from the 20th century, British avant-garde, Cedric Morris (1889-1982) has had his fashionable ups and downs but he is currently riding the crest of a wave. Prices in the auction room have been strong. A 1934 oil Easter Bouquet took £49,000 at Sworders in April 2016, an artist’s record that has subsequently been bettered on several occasions.
Shortly after the success of two London exhibitions – Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman at the Garden Museum and Cedric Morris: Beyond the Garden Wall at the Philip Mould & Company gallery and a third in Suffolk at Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, marking a bequest of 100 Morris works, the house, Benton End, was acquired by a trust with a mission to return the Grade II* property to a place of artistic and horticultural education.
The project is headed by Bridget Pinchbeck who first became involved after attending a lecture about Morris at the Garden Museum, given by Philip Mould. It was later in conversation with Mould (star of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow and Fake or Fortune who has also joined the charity’s Board of Trustees) that she learned Benton End was up for sale.
Sworders have also been instructed to sell the contents of Hill House in Sudbury on behalf of Tony Venison, for many years the Gardens Editor of Country Life and himself a frequent visitor to Benton End. His collection includes three later oils by Cedric Morris. Signed and dated 1970, a still life of vases, flowers and a dish of painted eggs – inscribed to the reverse ‘Reserved for Tony Venison £500’ – is estimated at £20,000-30,000 while a 1971 depiction of a Turkish village near Izmir that formed part of the ‘Cedric Morris’ : Beyond the Garden Wall‘ exhibition last year, is pitched at £10,000-15,000.
Tony Venison also owned two pencil portraits of Cedric Morris captured by two of his pupils at Benton End, Kathleen Hale (1898-2000), the author and illustrator of ‘Orlando the Marmalade cat’ books and Joan Warburton (1920-1996). Hale’s portrait, inscribed and dated 1944 and purchased by the vendor at the Redfern Gallery in 2001 (estimate £400-600) is followed by Warburton’s sketch inscribed ‘Cedric, Hadleigh 21.3.43 and is estimated at £500-700.