East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Benton End

East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Benton End

The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Benton End has received increasing attention over the past few years, led by soaring prices for works by the school’s co-founder name most synonymous with the school, Cedric Morris (1889-1982).

7 February 2023

Prior to establishing Benton End as an art school, Cedric Morris, along with his partner and fellow artist Arthur Lett-Haines (1894-1978) (known professionally as “Lett Haines”) established the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Dedham on 12 April 1937. In 1939, the School was destroyed by fire and relocated to Benton End. It was during this period (1939-1942) that the School was home to its most famous student, Lucien Freud OM CH (1922-2011). The School’s relocated premises the early 16th century house called Benton End on the outskirts of Hadleigh, with an interior thought to have been designed by Sir Peter Cheney.

Cedric Morris (1889-1982) 'FOXGLOVE'

Cedric Morris (1889-1982), 'FOXGLOVE', Signed and dated '32 l.l., also signed, inscribed with title and dated verso, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 60cm, unframed, Sold for £208,000

Benton End soon became home to a thriving school, with gardens that were the envy of many. Morris’ chief hobby outside of his art was gardening. While at Benton End he grew up to 1,000 irises per year, including breeding around 100 new varieties himself (any iris with ‘Benton’ in its name being one of these). As a result of his prolific hobby and the ready availability of subject material, Benton End School paintings are overwhelmingly garden and nature-related.

Morris and Lett’s teaching style at Benton End was filled with freedom for students – based upon the French academic model that Morris himself was trained in. There was no formal training per se, but instead pupils were encouraged to carry out their own creative pursuits and then seek advice from the teachers as they desired it. Pupils over the years included Lucy Harwood (1893-1972), Glyn Morgan (1926-2015), and Kathleen Hale OBE (1898-2000). The School also regularly had visits from heavyweights of the British painting scene such as John Nash and Francis Bacon.

Cedric Morris (1889-1982) 'EASTER BOUQUET', 1934

Cedric Morris (1889-1982), 'EASTER BOUQUET', 1934, Signed, oil on canvas, 64 x 64cm, Sold for £63,700

During the Second World War, Benton End became a refuge for artists that, owing to the gardens and their prolific produce capacity it is said that those who worked there never went hungry. After the War, the School remained open in summer, with Morris travelling during the winters, often with the intention of collecting exotic plants to breed in his garden. The gardens were sometimes referred to by commentators as an extension of Morris’ painting – curated as an expression of his artistic talents.

Cedric Morris (1889-1982) DROUGHT, OXFORDSHIRE, 1933

Cedric Morris (1889-1982), DROUGHT, OXFORDSHIRE, 1933, Signed l.r., oil on canvas, 56 x 69cm, Sold for £65,000

The 1940s and 1950s are often said to have been the heydays of the School, with Morris’ garden attracting many visitors, and new students arriving every summer. Around 1975, Morris stopped painting owing to his failing eyesight. When Haines died in 1978, the school closed, with Morris continuing to live at Benton End until his death in 1982. Collectively, the artists who worked there throughout the School’s 40-year history are known as the ‘Benton End Group’.

Today Benton End is grade II listed and run by the Garden Museum, and works are continuing to revive the house and garden to what they were during their time as a school and revive it as a place of creative expression where artists, gardeners, and designers alike can come together to work. 

Find out more about Benton End Artists at Sworders, and view our Artist Directory here

To discuss a valuation or find out more about our upcoming Modern and Contemporary Art sale please contact pictures@sworder.co.uk | 01279 817778




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