Sir Cedric Morris, Bt

Experiment in Textures


Not on display

Sir Cedric Morris, Bt 1889–1982
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 500 × 600 mm
frame: 632 × 731 × 51 mm
Purchased 1995


During December 1920 Cedric Morris and his partner Arthur Lett-Haines left England for continental Europe. During the next six years they travelled extensively and became acquainted with various strands of the European avant-garde. In November 1922 their work was included in a group exhibition at the Casa d'Arte Bragaglia, Rome, run by Anton Giulio Bragaglia (1890-1960). For Bragaglia, an important figure in the development of Futurist Photodynamism, the purpose of art was to achieve not the precise record of physical appearance but the dynamic synthesis of abstract and natural forms. In part these interests seem to be reflected in Experiments in Texture, in which geometric dynamism is allied with biomorphic form to convey a sense of the natural forces of growth and energy.

In June 1924, the Arts League of Service exhibited Morris's work in a group show at 60 Gower Street, London. Among his forty-four paintings were ten abstract works, of which Experiments in Texture may have been one. In an interview with Ana M Berry for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, 17 August 1924, Morris expanded on his views about abstraction: 'Every picture is an abstraction whether it represents the objects of the external world or not. A portrait, just as a landscape, is simply an arrangement of forms, lines and planes. In a good painting the lines and planes are related in this way. Therefore it is impossible to copy nature in a photographic way. We have to reconstruct it, and to make a composition of an organised and vital drawing. To do this it is essential to give the forms the maximum expression, to discover the lines that can sustain the rhythm and the plastic relations so that they can give the best sensation of mass, volume and textures that correspond to the very things one is trying to represent. In abstraction one exercises these essential points of the pictorial language' (quoted in Morphet, p.92). Thus Experiments in Texture, in which a range of textures and colours radiate out from the central passage of thick, heavily worked impasto, may be construed as an exercise exploring the vocabulary of texture and colour.

The textural variety contained in Morris's paintings was admired by at least one reviewer of the Rome exhibition who had written, 'the light dances among the waves of paint, flickering brightly, so the whole work takes on the appearance of a mosaic, tapestry or precious enamel' (quoted in Morphet, p.29). It was also appreciated by the critic R H Wilenski, who, in his essay for the Arts League of Service exhibition, commented that, 'The artist's preoccupation with the surface of his pictures is readily apparent and shows the true craftsman's feeling for definite and ordered texture.' (Arts League Exhibition, unpaginated).

On his return to England in 1927, Morris moved away from abstraction. Nonetheless, his paintings continued to explore the same technical issues that he had outlined in his interview with Berry in 1924.

Further reading:
The Arts League of Service exhibition: Stoneware Pottery by W.S.Murray, Paintings & Drawings by Cedric Morris, exhibition catalogue, Arts League of Service, London 1924
Richard Morphet, Cedric Morris, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1984, reproduced p.27, (colour)

Toby Treves
November 2000

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Display caption

Morris is best known for an apparently naïve style of figurative painting and for the school he ran at Benton End in Suffolk with his partner Arthur Lett-Hains. In the early 1920s, however, he made and exhibited a number of abstract compositions. These followed a trip to Italy where he had been close to the artist Anton Giulio Bragaglia who advocated an art, not of representation, but of the dynamic synthesis of abstract and natural forms. Noting that all paintings are abstractions to some degree, in 1924 Morris stated that abstract paintings were explorations of the essential elements of pictorial language: here these are, presumably, texture and colour.

Gallery label, November 2016

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed in oil paint on a very fine linen canvas, attached to a softwood strainer. The fabric was initially covered in a thin layer of an off-white oil primer, prior to stretching.

Most of the textures in the paint appear to have been created with just oil paints, without the addition of any further materials. In the glossier and less-textured areas, such as the green and light blue paints, further oil medium may have been added to the paints. These areas also exhibit some minor pin-holes in their surfaces. Conversely in the drier and more-textured areas, the oil was probably partially leached out before its application. The thicker passages have been built up with only a few thick layers of paint. In the highly textured purple paint in the centre of the composition, the addition of large quantities of gypsum (used as a filler to bulk out the paint even further) was detected by chemical analysis.

In addition to the oil paints, black sand and a dry blue pigment have been sprinkled over various areas of the background buff colour. The black sand has been found through analysis to consist of a mixture of sand (silicon dioxide) and chalk, and the dry blue pigment has been identified as pure (synthetic) ultramarine. There is no varnish.

There appears to be another painting, or at least the start of one, beneath the present image. Areas of bright red and grey/blue are visible underneath the background colour where small fragments have been lost and there are a number of textured brushstrokes in the lower left quarter which do not relate to the top image.

The painting is in satisfactory condition, although it should be viewed as an inherently fragile piece. The black sand and blue pigment are readily lost by any kind of physical contact and fairly severe cracks have started to appear in some of the thicker areas of paint, in particular those running diagonally across the lower right corner. The painting has been treated in the past to consolidate these vulnerable areas. The central areas of colour have all been surface cleaned and the original frame has been built up to allow for the inclusion of glazing and a backboard.

Tom Learner
July 1997

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