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An Artist in Peace and War


Carey Carey Morris, artist, was born in Llandeilo, the son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Boynes Morris on May 17, 1882. He died on November 17, 1968 and was buried in Llandeilo Churchyard.

The family was an established one in the locality. Their painters' and decorators' business was well known. The home was hospitable and cultured and the children achieved academic distinction.

Carey Morris attended the National school and later the Llandeilo County School. He claimed, with strong personal pride, that his name was one of the first on the school register. It was with pride also that he related the vicissitudes of the effort made in the town to establish a county school, this in the face of severe, active opposition from the squirearchy who could foresee in the project that they would be "educating their masters."

His literary, musical and artistic talents were developed in the school and he spent long hours at his home in a section of Rhosmaen Street, then known as Prospect Place, practising his drawing.

The writer has had access to the artist's collection of personal papers and it is interesting to reflect, in the light of later decades, how he managed to develop his talents, in spite of the rigidity of the school system of his time. As an adult, he looked back and criticized adversely the systems that prevailed in the art schools of his youth.

"These schools were started in England and Wales after the Great Exhibition of 1851 which praised the merits of British craftsmanship. They were designed to raise the standard of art but the system is so stereotyped, so uniform that, instead of encouraging art, it has stultified art in both countries. It is a system which, starting in the elementary schools, permeates upwards like a noxious leaven," he wrote.

"A child learning to draw under the Board of Education system would have to be a very great artist to maintain his individuality and to throw off in later life the shackles imposed upon his mind.

"When I was a boy, I was taught drawing by the Board of Education system. The method then was that everything should be drawn from copies, all outlines had to be put in by a series of dots and the spaces between, afterwards joined up with lines from dot to dot. It seems incredible that such a system should be dignified by the name of drawing. It included niggliness and timidity and tended to stamp out any real talent the budding draughtsman might possess.

"Although I was only a child, I instinctively rebelled against this method and, holding my pencil as I hold my brushes, I refused to make the dots and drew boldly in line. Corporal punishment was then in vogue, and for drawing as my instinct compelled me, instead of in the wrong way forced upon us by the Board of Education, I was so severely beaten that my father withdrew me from that school. The incident is more important than appears at first. The system . . . arouses the contempt of the Continental Nations."

He went on to study at the Slade School, London, under Professor Tonks, the famed anatomist who gave up medicine to become Slade Professor of Art at the University of London. Here Carey Morris was to excel in the study of anatomy, both surface anatomy and that of bone and of muscle. These minute and painstaking studies were to bear fruit later, especially in his portrait studies, giving them unerring three-dimensional qualities together with an uncanny air of personality which were later acclaimed by experienced critics.

After the strenuous and rigid discipline of the Slade School, life at the Newlyn School of Painting, Cornwall, was a happy relief. He lived in close and harmonious affinity with the artist colony, Dod Proctor, Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope Forbes, F. Tressider and others. Carey Morris and his wife Jessie Phillips Morris were to return there again and again. Friendships made there proved life-long. Tales of the Cornish men and women coloured Carey's conversation to the close of his life.

Many of the Cornish personalities became perpetuated in his paintings, such as Saunders the Postman and Gillieboo his dog. The beauty of the landscape appealed to him and the clarity of the light made painting a joy. Some of his pictures show his ingenuity in choosing titles: The Last Farm in England this was Escalls at Land's End, a study which was exhibited at the Royal Academy. Well-known is his study Woman at the Well. This was made at the farm at Land's End. He found there a curiosity, a well sunk in the farmhouse itself. The inmates had no need to go outside to draw water, for the well was at hand inside the walls in a little white-washed room of its own. This rare type of inside well was known as a peath.

His portrait study shows the tiny white-washed room lighted by a little window of bottle glass; a lantern hanging near had seen service for over 200 years and still did duty on dark nights. The quaint wall bucket was of a make and a shape not seen elsewhere, and in a niche in the wall stood an old pot.

Most interesting of all was the ancient dame who helped in the work of the farmhouse and drew the water from the peath. Her sunbonnet was a work of art. Pleated and quilted by herself, it was made to withstand all weathers, the strongest sunrays could not penetrate its folds, nor the wettest shower penetrate its thickness. The old dame was proud of her bonnets and kept them spotlessly white. The artist came into possession of one of these bonnets and it was a treasured "conversation piece" in his studio to the end of his days. The old lady's uneventful life was a record of hard work and scanty wages but she brought up her family well and quaintly boasted they all had their "first and second suits", meaning that, however hard the struggle, she managed that they should always have a "Sunday best."

Carey Morris and his wife transferred to London. He had his studio in Chelsea in Cheyne Walk, and Mrs. Jessie Morris became an editor and journalist. Their coterie of friends was various artistic, literary, musical. Carey Morris's first love was the 'cello; he was a popular member of ensembles at the currently fashionable conversaziones. Frequent visitors to the studio in Cheyne Walk were artists such as William Orpen, John Nash, Ethelbert White, Dod Proctor, Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope Forbes, Frank Brangwyn, Evan Walters, Sir George Clausen and Sir Herbert Herkomer. Many were the tales of these artists which Carey Morris told in his puckish way. He was a raconteur without rancour. He related how Sir Herbert Herkomer was once asked by a Welsh admirer what he thought of Welsh art. He replied brusquely, "Madam, there is no Welsh art." Carey Morris remarked that Herkomer was a German genius who owed his first encouragement to a Welshman, Mr. Mansel Lewis, who bought one of his earliest pictures for 500 pounds. He might well have added, "You will never have any Welsh art while you support foreign artists and starve your own". If Wales desires a National Art then she must encourage her native artists. Italian art did not begin with Raphael and Michelangelo. Art is like a tree that must be nurtured and tended; it may bloom for many generations until at last the perfect flowering comes. Remember however that but for the previous blossomings there would be no mature perfection.

There were frequent visits to Llandeilo and the Towy Valley proved in many ways an artist's paradise. One of his best known pictures, The Welsh Weavers, showed two members of the Edwards family of Rhosmaen working at their craft in their cottage home. It was a picture with a strong human appeal and its reproduction by the Anglo-American Publishing Co. ensured its wide circulation on both sides of the Atlantic.

War came to inerrupt these halcyon days. At the outbreak of the First World War, Carey Morris enlisted. Later he was commissioned in the South Wales Borderers. He served in the trenches in Flanders, where he was severely gassed. As a result he spent many months in war hospitals, mainly in the Isle of Wight and at Liverpool. His health remained sadly impaired for the rest of his life.

Reticent in person about his war experiences as are ever those who suffered greatly from them, nevertheless Carey Morris's personal papers and memoirs throw interesting light on scenes seen through the eyes of an artist. He recorded his experience working as a Welsh artist in France.

"As we marched to the training ground at Rouen on a January morning a keen icy blast blew into our faces which almost took off our noses despite the glorious sunshine. Frozen snow lay everywhere.

"Gazing at this parade ground for the first time, one thought it rather strange to see soldiers in khaki marching up and down, when informed that Napoleon used it for the same purpose for his intended invasion of England's shores. Now it was the training ground of the British Army.

"On the left side of the square was a rampart where, at intervals, a French trumpeter appeared in blue and red uniform. It was like an illustrated page of the Franco-German War of 1870.

"Extending my gaze to the other end of the square, which was some distance away, I saw a troop of Indian lancers appear from the right hand corner. At a sudden command they quickened their pace then lowered their lances and charged up and down, wheeling in different directions at a tremendous pace.

"While I was watching this thrilling scene, there appeared from the opposite corner a battery of French artillery and they too swept up and down at great speed.

"It was a wonderful sight this thrilling scene. The colouring, fine horsemanship, discipline and control were superb ...

"This training ground, known to the troops as The Bull Ring, was situated about three to four kilometres on the outskirts of Rouen on the Paris road and at the edge of a great forest which was many miles long."

One feels that had Carey Morris his canvas and palette at hand he would have depicted a scene much in the style of Breughel, capturing the wealth of colour, light and vivacity. Soon, all too soon, the scene had changed, as the following extracts show.

"An R.E. officer came to our compartment for a chat. From him we gathered that Poperinghe was our stopping place. On approaching this town, it was still dark. Our new friend diverted our gaze to what appeared like fireworks (Verey Lights) in the distance. The front line is yonder and that is where you are going', he said.

"In the distance we could hear the booming of guns and with some apprehension our friend exclaimed, 'Did you hear that? There is a heavy bombardment going on. Some poor fellows are catching it in the neck.'

"We reached Poperinghe about 8 o'clock, cramped and aching, having been in that wretched train since 4 p.m. on Sunday. We crossed the road to the officers' club where we had a very welcome breakfast which we ate ravenously . . . ."

"Everything on both sides was being hurled over. Heavy shells, shrapnel, machine guns and rifle-fire and trench mortars. It was hell let loose. We were all on the firestep peering into the gloom for any sudden attack . . . . (Details of the carnage need not be repeated).

"The intense bombardment lasted five hours but this sort of thing was a daily occurrence. This one incident should be enough to deter anyone rushing into war again . . . ."

"When I arrived at Brieuleu I had already walked about 7 miles on a rough cobbled road and my heels were quite sore. It was past midnight and I felt very thirsty. There wasn't a soul to be seen anywhere. I didn't expect to see civilians as there were none, the village having been reduced to ruins.

"At last I saw a chink of light in one of the houses. I turned in there and found a young artillery officer writing. He made me welcome and supplied me with some hot tea. I stayed with him for some time as I had walked about 12 miles since three o'clock in the afternoon and needed rest. Eventually I took my departure and soon rejoined my Company on the other side of the canal bank. Directly afterward Captain Galsworthy had to visit Brieuleu but returned quite soon. He told me that as he entered Brieuleu he heard the scream of a shell which fell on to one of the houses in the street and into a room where a battery major and a young artillery officer were sitting, killing both outright.

"For a few minutes I could hardly speak. Then I told him I had been resting for a few hours in that very room chatting with the young artillery officer, now dead, on my way back."

There were other instances of imminent danger. These experiences left a deep mark on his personality. From his silence and reticence one became aware that he was conscious of an over-ruling Presence saving him at the eleventh hour.

Army life had its lighter side too and his artistic eye was conscious of vivid scenes.

"One afternoon I was sent to Poperinghe to find billets for the officers of the battalion. The colonel should have sent me in the morning, for, when I arrived in the town, the other battalions had stolen a march on us and booked nearly all the billets. I was directed to the convent. I went there and interviewed the Mother Superior who took me up a staircase and showed me a number of cubicles which we could have but it would be necessary for me to see the Town Mayor first of all to obtain his approval. When I had done so I returned to the Mother Superior and told her we would he arriving about midnight.

"It was very dark when we arrived. I led the officers to the convent, but in darkness I was quite at a loss to direct them to the cubicles I had seen in daylight.

"I led the way up the staircase which I imagined was the one I had been up in the day but, when we heard women coughing we discovered we were in the nuns' quarters and on the wrong staircase and hastily retreated. By this time it was hardly worth turning in as we had to parade again at 4 o'clock."

His skill as an artist was marshalled to undertake a gruesome commission.

"We remained at Laires for a few weeks. Our company officers' mess was in the house of a carpenter, wheelwright, undertaker and farmer rolled in one.

"One morning while I was having my breakfast, the landlord asked whether there was an artist in the company. Captain Galsworthy turned to me and said, 'Here's a commission for you, old boy'. I asked the landlord what he wanted and he informed me that he had a coffin to make for a great sportsman in the village and that the gentleman had expressed a desire to have a picture of a hare sitting on its haunches with landscape painted as large as possible on the coffin lid.

"I said I would do it with pleasure if I could find some paint and brushes I had somewhere in my valise. I eventually found them but I was a bit stumped for a hare as a model. The landlord then took me to the backyard and showed some rabbits in hutches. I made a rough sketch of one of the rabbits and turned it into a hare by drawing the ears and hind legs larger. My range of colours was limited as I had lost my tubes of paint while attempting to sketch in Boesinghe village, which was too dangerous a job as the shells were continuously dropping in the street.

"I managed to get some ordinary paint from the carpenter and having got all my materials together, I proceeded with my work of art. The news that an artist was painting a picture on the lid of a coffin spread like wildfire through the village and shortly there was a crowd outside pressing hard against the window and endeavouring to catch a glimpse at the artist working on such a gruesome and unusual canvas.

"I managed to get a fairly good representation of a hare which looked quite effective against a big sky and trees. When it was complete the carpenter invited the villagers to view the work of art. It was like a one-man art exhibition.

"Slowly the villagers left the room but one old man lingered on and when he was about to leave I asked the carpenter, 'When is the owner of the coffin to be buried?'

"He isn't dead yet. There he is going out now,' said he, pointing to the old man leaving the house. 'Yes, he is a great sportsman. I do not remember the number of times he has been in prison for poaching.'

"When the training was over, we began our long march back to the salient. By this time a serious illness came upon me and I left the battalion at Proven and returned to 'Blighty' where I spent the next 12 months in hospital and in this way missed the great offensive of July 30 1917. A few weeks later Company Sergeant - Major Jack Williams of B Company won the Victoria Cross for great gallantry."

In efforts at recuperation there were long visits to Llandeilo. Considerable and meticulous thought was devoted to the needs of the family business. With the succeeding years, sorrow and tragedy were to bring their sombre colours on to the canvas of his life throwing into relief that which was honest, simple and good.

In some ways out of his milieu, in other ways he was literally at home in Llandeilo. He had many friends in the town and district; he was a congenial companion, a first rate raconteur, the drama of his words being heightened by gentle mimicry. His brother, Robert, was an insatiable local historian and geologist and many were the conferences and dissertations between the devoted brothers. Their combined interest in genealogy led them into many by-paths of research. Carey was proud to possess an authentic record of the family tree of the Morisiaid from the time of their activities in Anglesey and their migrations southward to Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire, together with details of their successful enterprises in silver and lead mines down to contemporary times. The late Victorian-Tennysonian atmosphere which had been inculcated at Newlyn found continuation and satisfaction in Carmarthenshire. Mrs. Dod Proctor had concentrated on the mystique of the Arthurian legends and he delighted to find it again in the poems and prose of Sir Lewis Morris. Carey Morris knew Sir Lewis well both at Penbryn, Llangunnor and in London. They claimed to he kinsmen. He often decried the fact that Sir Lewis had been passed over in the choice of poet laureate.

During the 1920s he was director of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of the National Eisteddfod of Wales and as an artist conferred with men of the calibre of Sir Goscombe John, Owen John, (Sir) Clough Williams Ellis and others in developing this side of the national festival.

An artist is essentially a man before his time. He saw much room for improvement in the Gorsedd ceremonies which were being introduced and he spoke and wrote freely on the subject. With piquant humour, he saw something incongruous in the sight of bespectacled, be-robed bards riding precariously in a bus over an undulating eisteddfod field. He urged strongly for more dignified and better organised bardic ceremonies. He succeeded in convincing the authorities concerned that resonant trumpeters rather than blaring brass bands were more appropriate for proclamation ceremonies.

During the inter-war years he spent much time in the homes of the Welsh squirearchy and he must have been among the last of a long line of artists who worked under the direct patronage of this social class. A record of his life at that time would have made fascinating reading to both the social and local historian. Much time was spent in different parts of Wales, North and Mid Wales, Llandaff and Pembrokeshire. There were long sojourns in present day Gwent at the home of Sir Joseph Bradney, an expert in heraldry and genealogy and author of the monumental work, The History of Monmouthshire.

Writing of Sir Joseph Bradney, Carey Morris recorded:

"On one occasion we went to Pembrokeshire together to visit St. David's Cathedral. Neither of us had been there previously. Sir Joseph desired some historical information which he knew would be found in the Cathedral.

"On our way down from Carmarthen, a woman passenger shared our train compartment. She informed us that she was returning to her home in Solva. We told her we were also going in that direction, whereupon she exclaimed, 'Why, I have seen you two often at 'Arford (Haverfordwest) fairs.'

"The remark immediately took me back to my student days in Newlyn, Cornwall . . . Ernest Proctor and I had received an invitation to tea from a fellow artist in Penzance to meet some North Country connoisseurs. The next day we were informed by our artist friend that the visitors were very disappointed with us and said we did not look at all like artists but more like farmers' sons from the country . .

"On one occasion Sir Joseph related to me the story of the Welsh Guards and how the leek became the regimental badge.

"During the war period, before he went to France, Sir Joseph commanded a battalion of the Queen's Rifles quartered in London. The project to form a new regiment of Welsh Guards was being mooted. The merits of the leek and daffodil as the regimental badge were advanced by the respective coteries.

"One morning, Sir Joseph received a message from Gen. Sir Francis Lloyd asking him to call on Sir Francis immediately. Sir Joseph, in the interview, was informed that the Welsh Guards was about to be formed. Sir Francis Lloyd was aware of Sir Joseph's knowledge and experience in matters concerning heraldry and entrusted to him the task of deciding on a fitting emblem for the regimental badge and a regimental motto. Sir Joseph came to the conclusion that the leek was the appropriate design for the badge and for the motto he chose Cymru Am Byth. Sir Francis Lloyd received the decision with enthusiasm and expressed delight with Sir Joseph's adoption of the leek.

"The next morning, the King (George V), gave his approval and the new regiment of Welsh Guards with the leek as regimental badge and Cymru Am Byth as motto came into existence."

On artistic grounds alone the leek, with its simple and clear cut form, makes a distinctive and elegant regimental badge.

Carey Morris became at this period a prolific writer on matters of art and national interest. His wife and he moved in literary circles. He found affinity in Edward Thomas, the Anglo-Welsh artist and writer. The latter saw a striking resemblance in the features of the celebrated William Morris, artist, and Carey Morris. A lithograph of the senior artist, presented by Edward Thomas, became a treasured possession and many strangers visiting Carey Morris's home were themselves struck forcibly by the resemblance.

Many of Carey Morris's writings were published, among them Personality as a Force in Art. He wrote trenchantly, some of his opinions reaching out to the metaphysical.

"Every beautiful and sincere picture even if painted by an obscure artist whom the world does not account great, contains a living quality," he wrote. "It changes every day according to the light, the moods of those who look at it and most of all through that mysterious quality of its own. It becomes a companion and a friend.

"What is it that gives to a picture this mysterious quality? It is the personality of the artist who painted it and the personality of the subject. If a landscape, it contains the varying moods of nature during the time it was being painted and the artist's reactions to those moods; if a portrait, it reflects more than one mood of both sitter and artist.

"The power of concealing several moods in one portrait is proportionate to the genius and sympathy in the artist's own personality. His moods are also contained within it.

"This confirms my belief that personality never dies. It lives on in a man's work and if it can be so alive long after his physical body is laid in the grave, is it not reasonable to suppose that the essence of his individuality is still alive? Human beings have different tasks to perform in the world; some have been destined to plan great works which have been too heavy a burden for their physical span of life, but their personalities are still alive, inspiring others to build on the foundation which they have laid. Is it not reasonable to suppose that personality 'the dweller innermost' then relives to inspire others?"

In Art and Religion in Wales he challenged the current attitude of Welsh Nonconformity towards art in general and pleaded for a wider acceptance of the beautiful as a fitting element in religious practice. His piquant humour was evident in his observations.

"It is remarkable how incidents make strong impressions on the mind of a child to be pondered over, but not understood for many years incidents slight in themselves, which yet have a certain psychological importance.

Fisherwoman "When I was a boy, it was a familiar sight to see itinerant vendors displaying most gaudy and highly-coloured reproductions of religious pictures to the simple country folk. The vendors were invariably sons of Israel and the pictures were obviously Roman Catholic in sentiment; the subjects were the Madonna and Child and the Crucifixion, very gaudily coloured and the general effect considerably heightened and made most attractive to the people by a liberal supply of gold and silver tinsel decoration. As a boy, these pictures and the itinerant visitors fascinated me. Some years later it struck me a most remarkable sight Jewish vendors selling Roman Catholic pictures to Nonconformists!"

He was always the champion of young artists and called for support for them on a national and on an individual basis.

He was an ardent champion of the crafts. He wrote Craftsmanship Must Not Be Allowed to Die, in which he considered what future generations would think of the artists and craftsmen of his own generation and how the former achievements of our own crafts might be restored, a consideration which led him to say with deep feeling, "If we want to produce craftsmen our education authorities should consider this matter more seriously. It is astonishing how ignorant educated people may be on the use of such a simple instrument as a two-foot rule. To hold certificates and not be able to read and use a two-foot rule is a preposterous position."

His interest in Wales and in its cultural activities remained paramount. He was called on to illustrate books. Among the best known were his illustrations of a translation of Bunyan's The Pilgrims' Progress by Tegla Davies, and he found pleasure in illustrating books for children written by his wife. On occasions he co-operated with his wife in writing about his native country. Describing a moonrise over Snowdon, he wrote :

"It was 2 o'clock when we reached the marge that joins snow to its peak of Crib Goch. We had climbed so far by the aid of the stars but by now they too had vanished leaving us in a strange weird light, through which we saw one another's faces dimly.

"From the opaque masses of clouds above us, a faint strip of blue emerged merging with a lakelet of colour that paled into exquisite green and with a still serenity and peace that contrasted strangely with the boisterous after-rising of the sun, the golden crescent appeared. Though shadowed by the pale wraith of the dead moon, she 'moved a queen', secure in the stainless purity of the waves that bore her through the fleecy mass that heaved sullenly round their margin. Higher and higher above the peaks of Crib Goch, she was borne on the bosom of that fairy tide. To the right, awful crags loomed darkly; beyond Moel Siabod, that home of enchantment, gleamed like one huge emerald; and in the distance, wave upon wave of rounded hills rolled into view.

"Far below, the track by which we had come glistened, a mere silver thread and one by one as the rays reached them, the lakes shone out like jewels. One could almost hear the rays falling through the great silence, while the listening peaks seemed to bow their heads before the enchantment of that wondrous moonrise. Oh! to remain in that ecstasy for ever; but our path lay upward and in the silence, borne of music, we continued our way."

Back in Llandeilo and with much responsibility in the family business Carey Morris was still closely identified with art. He was commissioned to paint numerous portraits. Of special interest to him was the designing of a flag which the town of Llandeilo sent to its namesake in New South Wales, Australia.* Ever a friend of children, he found special delight in painting portraits of them.

Carey Morris's canvases, his portraits, his landscapes and his studies have established for themselves their own particular niche not only in Britain but in many countries in the world. To those who knew him well, it was the canvas of his own life, in its subtle tones and nuances which had the greatest glory. Wales can be proud of one of her most dedicated artists. The words of A. C. Swinburne in Super Flamina Babylonis form his epitaph:

Unto each man his handwork; unto each his crown
the just Fate gives;
Whoso takes the world's Life to him and his own lays down;
He, dying, so lives.

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