The works were prime examples of the painter’s sought-after post-Impressionist botanical still-lifes and were offered at separate sales held within two days of each other in south-east England.
First up was Morris’ Easter Bouquet, an abundant flower painting from 1934. It was included in Sworders’ (22% buyer’s premium) inaugural Modern British Art sale in Stansted Mountfitchet on April 12, which also yielded the £85,000 Eric Ravilious watercolour.
The signed, 2ft 1in (64cm) square Morris oil on canvas work was given by the artist to Tom and Bod Wright and included among a consignment of pictures and books from the pair to the Sworders’ sale.
An old label to the verso listed that it had been exhibited at The National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff, in 1946 followed by The Contemporary Art Society, London, in 1968. Pitched at £20,000-30,000, it attracted top London galleries and was eventually knocked down for £49,000 to one over the phone.
That price set an auction record for Morris, beating the £47,000 paid at Christie’s London on July 11, 2013, for Summer Flowers, a 3ft 11 x 3ft 3in (1.19m x 99cm) oil on canvas from 1924.
But it lasted for a couple of days only – on April 14, down in Chichester, West Sussex, another vibrant botanical work, Summer Garden Flowers, was on the auction block at Henry Adams (20% buyer’s premium).
It came fresh to the market from a local deceased estate where it had been since its acquisition from the artist in the 1930s and was offered alongside a number of other notable paintings in the sale. These included two Edward Lears and a picture by a follower of Sir Anthony Van Dyke.
Larger than the Sworders’ example, the 2ft 7in x 20in (80 x 51cm) oil on canvas was signed and dated 12-32, putting it two years after Easter Bouquet. Strong bidding from two phones drove prices well above the £10,000-15,000 estimate to an auction-record £81,000. The auctioneers were tight-lipped on who bought it, but speculation suggests it also went to the London trade.
While it appears increased trade activity is behind the latest hike in prices for Morris at auction, his star has been rising for a while.
Last month, Christie’s South Kensington sold a 22 x 18in (55 x 46cm) oil on canvas of irises and tulips for £22,000.
It had been gifted to the original owners by Peggy Guggenheim as a wedding present. The sum was almost four times the price fetched from its last appearance at auction in 2004 where it made £7800 at Bonhams.
Cedric Morris top five prices at auction
- Summer Garden Flowers, 2ft 7in x 20in (80 x 51cm) oil on canvas, 1932 – £81,000, Henry Adams, April 14, 2016.
- Easter Bouquet, 2ft 1in (64cm) square oil on canvas, 1934 – £49,000, Sworders, April 12, 2016.
- Summer Flowers, 3ft 11 x 3ft 3in (1.19m x 99cm) oil on canvas, 1924 – £47,000, Christie’s London, July 11, 2013.
- Flowers, 2ft 8in x 2ft (82 x 65cm) oil on canvas, 1923 – £37,000 Sotheby’s London, July 15, 2008.
- May Flowering Irises No.2, 2ft x 21in (65 x 54cm) oil on canvas, 1935 – £36,000, Christie’s London, June 26, 2015.
Cedric Morris factfile
- Born on December 11, 1889, in Sketty, Swansea, to Sir George Lockwood Morris, an industrialist, iron founder and Wales rugby international. Years later in 1947, Morris succeeds the baronetcy.
- Travels to Paris in April 1914 and studies at the Académie Delécluse in Montparnasse until the interruption of the war.
- His delicate health prevents him from enlisting in the army during the First World War but, as an experienced horseman, he is allocated to the training of remounts at Lord Rosslyn’s stables at Theale, Berkshire. Here he works in the company of Alfred Munnings and Cecil Aldin training horses to be sent to the Front.
- After stints in Cornwall, Paris and London, Morris, now a full-time painter, and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines open the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Dedham in April 1937. Within a year they have 60 students, of which Lucian Freud is one.
- In 1940, Morris moves to Benton End in Suffolk, where he cultivates a garden inspired by Claude Monet’s at Giverny. He successfully starts growing a vast range of new iris seedlings annually, a number of which bear his name and are later sold at the Chelsea Flower Show.
- By 1975 he has given up painting because of failing eyesight, but lives long enough to see the beginnings of a revival of interest in his work. Two years after his death in 1982, the Tate holds a Morris retrospective.