Foxgloves, a still life depicting blooms of pink and purple foxgloves and other English garden flowers, was hammered down at £160,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) at the October 22 sale.
The seller agreed to give part of the proceeds to the Benton End House and Garden Trust – a newly formed charity that plans to turn Morris’ former Suffolk art school into a centre for artistic and horticultural education.
The self-taught Welsh artist founded the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in 1937 in Suffolk. He is now as well-known today for horticulture as he is for his paintings, having bred more than 90 named varieties of irises in his Suffolk garden.
The Benton End project is headed by Bridget Pinchbeck with art dealer and Morris enthusiast Philip Mould on the board of the trustees.
Dated 1932, Foxgloves was painted just three years after Morris and his lifelong partner, Arthur Lett-Haines, chose the country life over a London studio. The couple took the lease on their first Suffolk home (Pound Farm in Higham) in 1929, followed in 1937 by the founding of the avant-garde East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, first in Dedham and then at Benton End House. Pupils at the school included artist Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling.
The previous record for a Morris painting at auction was set in January 2019 for the oil on canvas Flowers and Butterflies which was hammered down at £140,000 (plus 20% buyer’s premium) on January 17 at Henry Adams in Chichester.
A number of London dealers have been promoting Morris’ work in recent years including Mould, Richard Green Gallery and MacConnal-Mason. The artist was the subject of two London exhibitions in 2018, one at the Garden Museum in Lambeth and the other at Philip Mould & Company.
A number of other Morris pictures also sold in the Sworders auction including the 1933 oil on canvas Drought, Oxfordshire which, against a £10,000-£15,000 estimate, sold at £50,000.
Guy Schooling, chairman at Sworders, said: "This was a fantastic result and shows the prices are roaring for Morris' flower paintings. But interest in his landscapes has also increased recently."