Maggi Hambling revisits the art of Cedric Morris for Gainsborough’s House show
PUBLISHED: 09:37 16 February 2018
Sir Cedric Morris was one of East Anglia’s great artists, famous for his flower paintings, a new exhibition aims to reveal that he was a painter with a far greater palette. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to his pupil Maggi Hambling about her aspirations for the exhibition.
East Anglian-based artist Maggi Hambling has spent the past few months pulling together pictures for a new exhibition. This is not unusual except this is not an exhibition of her work but rather a celebration of one of her mentors Sir Cedric Morris.
Maggi was a pupil of Cedric Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines during her teens when she attended classes at their East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing based at Benton End, near Hadleigh, during school holidays.
After Morris’ death in 1982, Maggi became a trustee of the Cedric Morris estate and together with Robert Davey, has just offered the remaining items in Morris’ studio to Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury for far safe keeping and to allow his work to be kept in the public eye.
It is with this in mind that Maggi has worked with Gainsborough’s House director Marks Bills to come up with an exhibition which will show the scope and individuality of Morris’ work.
She said that without the support of Cedric Morris and Lett-Haines, her life could have been very different and the pair supplied observations, criticism and life lessons that remain with her.
“I grew up in Hadleigh and at 14 I got the shock of my life when I came top in the art exam at school. I decided that I wanted to try and become an artist and so my parents needed some kind of reassurance, so I went up to Benton End, which was known locally as The Artists’ House, with my first two oils – Suffolk landscapes – tucked under my arm and I thought I would show them and they would be encouraging.
“I knocked and Lett came to the door. He was tall and rather intimidating, and I asked if Sir Cedric Morris was at home and was told that Sir Cedric Morris was having his dinner. I then said: ‘Can I wait please?’ Because having plucked up the courage to go there I wasn’t going to come away not having spoken to him.
“I was led in and Cedric was sitting at the end of this long refectory table and was very friendly, giggly and charming. At the end of his dinner, he asked me to put my paintings up, so he could look at them, made certain criticisms but was very encouraging and Lett came in, made opposing criticisms but was also encouraging. He said: I suppose you are still at school? Well, come and paint in the holidays, which is what I did, along with helping Lett in the kitchen where I learned a lot of about painting and being an artist.”
Maggi said that this exhibition was an opportunity to bring the spotlight back onto one of people who made a real difference to her life.
“As I have said before, for me, this is where life began. Even at 15 I knew that The Artists’ House was notorious for every vice under the sun, which, I suppose, was quite appealing to a little ingenue, and I was there until 10 o’clock in the evening and I think my mother feared that I had been sold into the white slave trade at the very least.
“So, this exhibition is an opportunity to bring the spotlight back onto Cedric as an artist. He was well known for his flower paintings and his landscapes but for me I have always enjoyed his portraits. They both passionately believed in drawing. The earliest works in the Gainsborough House exhibition are drawings he made in the 1920s – intimate café drawings. You can almost hear the chatter.
“It’s good to have some major paintings surrounded by some wonderfully evocative drawings in a wonderful intimate setting. This exhibition is a wonderful cocktail of work, offering the visitor an overview of his very personal view of the world.
“He had a unique ability of capturing a moment that was very honest, timeless and very much his interpretation of what was before him. He was able to put down not only a physical representation of what was before him but could also put across an emotional connection.
“Looking at his work, you were able to feel what he felt about the scene or the person he was painting. If you look at the early drawings you can see, as well as the details of the architecture, the personalities of the people and each of them registers as a very real person.
“He was a great observer of people. He was also a great responder to the place, there was nothing mechanical about his work. There’s always a great sense of place.”
Cedric Morris at Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury, curated by Maggi Hambling and Mark Bills, runs until June 17, from 10am to 5pm.