Cedric Morris and Christopher Wood: A Forgotten Friendship rekindled at Norwich Castle

By Richard Moss | 26 October 2012
a painting of a hillside with fields and oasthouses in the foreground
Cedric Morris, Harding Down, Llangynwyd, Bridgend, 1928.© Gallery Oldham

Preview: Cedric Morris and Christopher Wood, A Forgotten Friendship at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery until January 2013

To say that Cedric Morris and Christopher ‘Kit’ Wood shared an artistic vision might seem to be overstating a creative relationship that flowered for only a brief few years amidst the social whirl of the 1920s.

But as this welcome exhibition reveals, their journey through painting in the twenties was a shared one and, after studying in Paris together, they returned to London where they developed styles and approaches that helped them become leading figures - and socialites - in the capital's art world.

Both men were influenced by early years in Cornwall and it has been said that the West Country brought the best out of the emotionally troubled Wood whose suspected suicide beneath a train in Salisbury in 1930 brought to an end a highly promising career.   

By contrast Morris’s long career seems like that of a naturally successful mid-century English painter. After spells in Newlyn and Paris, the move to London included membership of the Seven and Five Society before an escape to the bucolic charms of East Anglia saw him become a celebrated post war painter and teacher to the likes of Lucien Freud and Maggi Hambling among others.

a painted portrait of a seated man in a brown suit and short cropped hair
Constant Lambert, Christopher Wood, 1926.© National Portrait Gallery
As for Wood, influenced by Ben Nicholson and, in common with many of his peers, Picasso and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the paintings he left behind seem at first to reveal a quintessential 1920s concoction of influences.

Yet this assessment almost makes the real Wood disappear into the milieu of early twentieth century art and ignores Morris's benign yet pervasive influence.

Certainly Wood seems to be more in thrall to the abstractions of Paris and it’s interesting to track these subtle manifestations on Morris’s large landscapes. But it was Morris who had the pervasive appreciation of landscape, developing his own sense of what he termed “vision and reality”.
"There must always be understanding between the painter and the thing painted,” he wrote, “otherwise there can be no conviction and truth… This might be called "vision" and "reality", as opposed to realism. Reality is knowledge and realism only the appearance of knowledge."

The result is a style often described as naïve simplicity, which not only steered both of their approaches to landscape and rural scenes amidst the clamour of influences on pre-war painting, but also their portraiture.

In the words of the curator Nathaniel Hepburn the paintings here represent “a fascinating story of these two men's shared journey through the 1920s art world”.

“For those who know Cedric Morris as a painter of large paintings, and think that Christopher Wood was only influenced by Picasso and Ben Nicholson, this exhibition will be a big surprise."

More pictures:

a painting of a French country town fair with families, children, dogs, a horse and a gypsy wagon
Christopher Wood, Fair at Neuilly 1923.© Towner Eastbourne
a painting of a windmill surrounded by fields and hills
Cedric Morris, Breton Landscape, 1927.© Kirklees Museums and Galleries
a painting of a fishing boat moored in a small fishing harbour with harbourside cottages
Christopher Wood, Newlyn, 1930.© Glasgow
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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