When Glyn Morgan died at the end of June this year, Wales lost one of its most original painters. Only 12 months before, Chappel Galleries near Colchester, which had long championed Morgan with exhibitions, had organised Behind the Landscape, displaying oils and collages that demonstrated the artist was still producing richly imaginative work in his late eighties.
Morgan was born in 1926 in Pontypridd, Glamorgan, lying at the junction of the Taff and Rhondda valleys where, he told me, 'a fully loaded coal train went past the front of our house roughly every five minutes.' His paternal grandfather had been a miner, but Glyn's father, Henry Ivor Morgan, instead joined the Great Western Railway, becoming its main booking office head clerk in Cardiff. He was pleased when Glyn was selected for Pontypridd Grammar School, several teachers there saw he was developing a burgeoning talent, and he was later accepted as a student at Cardiff College of Art in 1942. There he encountered Ceri Richards, 'a marvellous teacher'. Through reproductions and visits to Cardiff Museum, Morgan newly encountered such modern artists as Augustus John and Pablo Picasso and it was there 'I think I saw my first Cedric Morris.'
Morris came to judge a show organised by Esther Grainger at the Pontypridd Settlement when the 17-year-old Morgan entered two pictures. 'He thought that mine were promising and said: "Why not come to my painting school in Suffolk?"' In the summer of 1944, the year he finished at Cardiff, he booked a week at Benton End in Suffolk, formally known as The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, a life-transforming event. Morgan attended Camberwell School of Art from 1947–1948, but found it unsympathetic, his strongest memory being 'the smell of cabbage drenched in bicarbonate of soda.' It was Benton End that remained his inspiration, to which he returned when he could for 38 years.
Morris had opened his school in 1937 with his lifelong companion and fellow artist Arthur Lett-Haines. Morris, who painted a portrait of Morgan, was a notable plantsman who created a lovely garden. Completing this Eden was the cooking of Lett-Haines – 'two enormous meals, with wine and breakfast and tea' – and the fascinating conversation with fellow students and occasional guests. Morgan confessed to being 'a highly emotional romantic, and when I fell for something it was 100%. It was just a lovely place to be.' Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service holds Morgan's late-1950s oil on board Cedric Morris in His Garden. In 1985, Morgan appropriately organised and presented The Benton End Circle exhibition of more than 40 years' work by students of Morris and Lett-Haines at Bury St Edmunds Art Gallery. Another legacy of Benton End was Morgan's membership, from 1988–1998, of the Society of Botanical Artists. Although Morgan and his wife Jean lived for 35 years in Buckinghamshire, his varied teaching including evening classes at High Wycombe School of Art, in the mid-1990s he was drawn back to Suffolk, settling in Hadleigh. A reluctant teacher, he taught until he 'got arthritic and deaf, so got out early. I always considered myself a painter who happened to be teaching.'
In 1963, Morgan made his first visit to Greece, having become absorbed in the Iliad and the Odyssey. A six-month Goldsmiths' Company Award five years later took him to Crete and over the next few years The Table of Minos and Orpheus series enriched his output, as did his love of music. He listened to Radio 3 all the time he worked in his garden studio, Gustav Mahler's The Song of the Earth from 2003 spawning a string of powerful and richly coloured landscapes, landscape remaining in recent years a strong theme in his output. From 2004, the legend of Blodeuwedd, taken from the Mabinogion, a collection of mainly fourteenth-century Welsh stories, was a constant preoccupation.
By the time of his last show at Chappel Galleries in 2014, Morgan had taken part in numerous group exhibitions and had had many one-man shows including seven retrospectives, one at The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 2006. That Library, National Museum Wales in Cardiff, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea and a clutch of other public collections hold examples.
David Buckman, art historian
David is the author of Glyn Morgan at Eighty, Sansom & Co., 2006.