New £204,160 Auction Record For Artist-Plantsman Cedric Morris

Sworders achieved an auction record for Cedric Morris (1889-1982) on Tuesday (October 22) when an oil on canvas Foxglove, 72.5 by 60cm, sold for £204,160 (inclusive of 27.6% buyers premium and VAT). The buyer was a leading London dealer. 

The previous auction high was £140,000 (hammer) for an oil on canvas Flowers and Butterflies

Foxgloves, the quintessential Morris still life depicting blooms of pink and purple foxgloves and other English garden flowers, came for sale at Sworders auction of Modern British with an estimate of £30,000-50,000. The seller will give part of the proceeds of the sale to the Benton End House and Garden Trust - a new charity that intends setting up the former home of Sir Cedric Morris as a centre for artistic and horticultural education.

The 1932 oil,  Foxglove, 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 on the outskirts of Hadleigh. 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). 

Cedric Morris Foxglove

The vendor of the painting says both her father and grandfather knew the artist, and both stayed at Benton End. The picture has been in the family since at least the early 1960s. 

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 three recent exhibitions - two in London and a third in Suffolk at Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, Benton End itself was acquired by a trust with a mission to return the 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.

The buyer of Foxglove also purchased two later Cedric Morris oils; View of Turkish village near Izmir, 61 x 91cm, from 1971 (£12,760 inc BP) and A Still Life with Vases, Flowers and a Dish of Painted Eggs, 76 x 61cm for which the vendor had paid £500 in 1970 (£22,968 inc BP). Both paintings were consigned to sale by Tony Venison, for many years the Gardens Editor of Country Life and himself a frequent visitor to Benton End. 

Another leading London dealer went to £63,800 (inc BP) to secure the oil on canvas, 56 by 69cm, titled Drought Oxfordshire, 1933. This painting was a gift from the artist to the present owner.

Among the artists who trained at Benton End is Maggi Hambling (b.1945) - well known for her hugely atmospheric oils of the turbulent sea. Purchased directly from the artist, a small oil on board titled Portrait of the Sea and dated [20]06, just 5.5 x 22cm, sold at £6,890 (inc BP). 

David Carr (1915-68) and his future wife Barbara Gilligan were also both members of The East Anglian School of Painting. The couple (painted by Cedric Morris in a portrait now in the Tate gallery) later moved to Starston Hall in Harleston, Norfolk. 

Although little regarded in his lifetime, David Carr was the subject of a series of posthumous exhibitions in New York and London. Among the surprises of the sale was Carr’s oil on board of a women with a lily, 54 x 32cm, that probably dated from c.1950. It sold for £4,210 (inc BP) - one of the highest ever prices for the artist at auction. 

Also unexpected was the £4,593 (inc BP) bid for a carved hardwood figure of a woman by Alan Lydiat Durst (1883-1970), a little-known member of the London Group  of artists. This 1.11m figure was signed and dated ALD 1948 - at which point Durst was teaching wood carving at the Royal College of Art. The price is a John Aldridge (1905-1983) is a stalwart of the Great Bradfield group - another strong suit of Sworders’ picture team. The oil A Harvest Field August 1939 came with quite a story: purchased by E G Jaklin Esq at an exhibition held at the Leicester Galleries in 1940, it was later damaged by shrapnel in an air raid. The owner returned the picture to the artist who had been happy to restore it. Estimated at £1,500-2,500, it took £4,721 (inc BP)

From a West Country collection were two monumental carved stone sculptures by the well-known contemporary sculptor Emily Young (b. 1951). Her commercial star has risen sharply in recent years - a new artist record was set in London earlier this year - and the market reacted positively to the appearance of Contemplative Figure with Egg and Bowl and The Formality of Couples. Both were fresh to the market, the former purchased through The Fine Art Society, the latter directly from the artist. They sold at £42,108 (inc BP) and £49,764 (inc BP) respectively. 

 

For more information contact Jane Oakley

janeoakley@sworder.co.uk | 01279 817778

 

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