Cedric Morris is one of those mid-20th-century British artists whose star is currently in the ascendant. He was the subject of a well-received exhibition at the Garden Museum in London last year and the same venue is currently, until 15 July, showing the work of Ivon Hitchens, another visionary artist of that generation who made the English countryside his theme.
Hugh St Clair’s new biography of Cedric Morris does not add anything new with regard to his paintings, but in concentrating on the artist’s life and its vicissitudes, it does provide a compelling window onto the British avant-garde and its relationship with similar movements elsewhere in Europe. It is billed as a joint biography, also taking in the explosive Arthur Lett-Haines (known as ‘Lett’), Morris’s partner in life and art. But most readers will be interested primarily in Morris, who was certainly the greater artist – though the author does commend Haines for doggedly sticking to the Surrealist project (he was one of the few British artists to remain wholly committed to a European art movement).
Morris was also a teacher and a cofounder with Haines in 1937 of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, at Benton End in Suffolk, a rather official-sounding name for an institution the main attraction of which for students was its unconventionality. Artists including Lucian Freud, Kathleen Hale (of