The 1938 oil Crisis was acquired from Morris by his friends, local collectors Robert ‘Bobby’ Bevan, an advertising executive, and his wife Natalie, the artist and muse. It has not been seen in public for more than half a century.
The painting has an estimate of £150,000-250,000 as part of the themed Avant Garde sale at Lyon & Turnbull in London’s Mall Galleries on October 26.
In this large-scale canvas Morris combined two of his passions - ornithology and horticulture - to comment on European politics. The image shows a central tree-like plant populated by a menagerie of British birds from the shy Goldcrest perched at the top to the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at its base.
Using the language of flowers, he represents pride (Crinum Lilies), inconstancy (Evening Primroses), health, wisdom and good nature (Verbascum) while the crocuses at the lower centre signify ‘my best days are past’. As all these are late summer or early autumn f lowering plants, it would suggest the time of year Morris created the painting. The Munich Agreement was signed in September 1938.
When Morris applied the date 38 to the still wet impasto at the lower left of the work, he was enjoying an especially favourable period in his life. In 1929, he had left London’s avant-garde art world behind and moved with life partner and fellow artist Arthur Lett- Haines to The Pound farmhouse in Higham, Suffolk.
The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing the pair established in 1937 was welcoming its first students and would soon move to the rambling pink Suffolk manor house Benton End in nearby Hadleigh.
Morris sent Crisis for inclusion in the 1939 International Exhibition of Paintings at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.
It was later acquired from Morris by his friends, the Bevans. They had first met Morris and Lett- Haines in the late 1920s.
Morris’ significance to the Modern British canon has been reassessed in recent years, leading to a dramatic increase in prices. The current auction record of £160,000 was set at Sworders in October 2019 for the 1932 painting Foxgloves.
Also on October 26, Cheffins in Cambridge offers an oil on canvas portrait of Morris by Vivien Gribble (1886-1932).
Best known as a wood engraver, she had lived in Higham from 1926 and had been the previous owner of The Pound before selling to Morris and Lett-Haines. The portrait was last sold by the artist’s daughter at Christie’s South Kensington in 1987. It is estimated at £2000-3000.
The Cambridge sale also includes a 1928 still-life of garden flowers by Morris that comes by descent within the artist’s family (estimate £20,000-30,000).