A bumper consignment of pictures by the artist-plantsman Cedric Morris (1889-1982) sold for nearly £250,000 at Newcastle upon Tyne saleroom Anderson & Garland (22% buyer’s premium).
The group of six oils and two watercolours offered in The Modern Auction on January 23 came from the family of Mary Cookson, an artist born in 1923 who studied at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing founded by Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines.
The works – a mix of the artist’s flower paintings and lesser-known landscapes and still-lives – were purchased directly from Morris or through The Ixion Society, the Ipswich gallery that represented him.
With the exception of one early painting, the majority were produced in the 1940s through to the early 1970s, post-dating the floral portraits of the 1920s-’30s that have set the bar for prices on the secondary market (a painting of foxgloves from 1932 sold for an auction record of £160,000 at Essex saleroom Sworders in October last year).
Prices for Morris have risen considerably in the last five years so these were favourable conditions in which to sell. Both trade and private bidders competed for the lots with four out of six oils surpassing pre-sale hopes.
“It was gratifying to handle a fresh-to-the-market collection that nobody had been able to get their teeth into before,” said Fred Wyrley-Birch, director at Anderson & Garland, after the sale. “There are certain artists like Cedric Morris that are going up and up. Nobody knows where prices will stop.”
Top lot was the 23in x 2ft 3in (60 x 70cm) oil on canvas Spanish Basket with Vegetables, dated 1961, which was exhibited at the Tate’s Morris exhibition in 1984.
Characteristic of the artist’s fascination with bold, saturated colours, this vibrant still-life was presented in the artist’s original painted frame and drew multiple bids. Estimated at £20,000-30,000, it was knocked down for £79,000 to a buyer bidding on the phone who also bought another oil in the group.
Decent interest emerged for an attractive oil on canvas of a corkscrew hazel and other plants against a blue background executed in 1946. The Twisted Hazel was also offered in a good commercial size, 23 x 19½in (60 x 50cm), and tipped over top estimate to sell for £67,000.
The highest-valued lot before the sale was a flower portrait depicting Morris’ beloved irises, which he admired for their ‘elegance, pride and delicacy’ and famously bred at Benton End.
The 2ft 11in x 2ft 5in (90 x 74cm) oil on canvas was dated 1971, just a few years before he virtually gave up painting because of failing eyesight. Given its late date, the estimate of £50,000-70,000 was bullish and it sold to an anonymous buyer at £44,000, a sum more in line with comparable paintings from the period.
Three oil landscapes from Morris’ travels to France, Turkey and his native Wales were largely well received, reinforcing the view that the artist’s travel subjects are also becoming more valuable on the secondary market.
The pick was a 23 x 19½in (60 x 50cm) view of Dowlais village in south Wales from the early 1940s, which nearly doubled top hopes to sell for £26,000.
A bidder paid £16,000 (estimate £10,000-15,000) for a c.1970s, 2ft x 2ft 11in (62 x 89cm) view of red roofs from a trip to Turkey (a similar Turkish view sold at Sworders for £10,000 last October). Sold for a below-estimate £11,000 was a 1920s seascape of a steamer off the coast of Arcachon, 21in x 2ft 1in (53 x 64cm).
The consignment also included four oil paintings by fellow Benton End student Lucy Harwood (1893-1972).
A Slade student in her youth, she became one of the East Anglian School’s longest-serving students, attending from its opening in Denham in 1937 and later moving to a nearby village when the school moved to Benton End in 1940.
A central figure in the school social life (she insisted on a formal afternoon tea every Sunday), Harwood’s naive style of painting was admired for its vivid colour and thick confident brushstrokes. She had her first solo exhibition at The Minories, Colchester, in 1975 and had further shows at Sally Hunter Fine Art.
The oils on offer outstripped the modest guides published in the catalogue to sell for a combined £10,000 to a mix of private and trade buyers.
“Her works have been bubbling away making hundreds not thousands at auction,” said Wyrley-Birch, who was surprised to see them do so well. “This East Anglian collection has shined a light on her work and how good it can be.”
A 2ft 6in x 2ft 1in (75 x 62cm) Continental street scene, probably Montmartre in Paris, sold at £2500 (estimate £50-90), while a smaller view of dockers working the Thames waterfront, that was signed, inscribed and dated 1939, took £3000 (estimate £100-180). Anderson & Garland believes this to be an auction record for a single Harwood painting.
Sold at £4500 (estimate £60-100) was a lot of two still-lives, one with a champagne bottle, the other with a vase of yellow narcissus, each measuring 20 x 16in (50 x 40cm).
Elsewhere in the consignment, a vibrant 2ft 8in x 2ft (82 x 63cm) watercolour of a macaw against a tropical background by Arthur Lett-Haines (1894-1978) sold for £3800 (estimate £1000-1800).