Though Ernest Hemingway, who met them in Paris, was irritated by what he called their 'superior, simpering composure', most people encountering Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines, who 'dined on wild swan and drank to excess,' and who may best be described as professional bohemians, were enchanted.
In the Twenties and the Thirties they were the archetypal 'jolly young people in colourful clothes', organising fancy dress parties attended by painter Augustus John and actor John Gielgud, with Royal Ballet choreographer Frederick Ashton in charge of the dancing.
The big reason for publishing a book about [Cedric] Morris (and Lett-Haines is very much the supporting actor here, the impresario to Morris’s prima donna) must be to stake a claim for his art. So come on, I’m willing to ditch my prejudice, to look again at an artist whose name I have encountered many times in other artists’ stories. I want to know what ammunition Morris’s biographer, Hugh St Clair, can fire at people like me... If St Clair enjoys writing about Morris’s work anything like as much as he relishes the social web-weaving that surrounds his life, he hides it well. In the biographical department, however, he has certainly done his research, deploying a vast store of documentary detail and friendship-circle anecdote culled from letters, press cuttings, unpublished memoirs and Morris’s own sayings and writings, which deal as often with his passion for breeding irises as with art... There are moments, even so, when the focus goes fuzzy... Fascinating as they may be to their friends, the life stories of people who can pretty much suit themselves have strictly limited appeal. Of an invitation to exhibit, Morris huffed: “I would rather be cock of my own dung hill than bundled in with a lot of mediocre painters.” Fine. But I’m with Augustus John (no stranger to suiting himself) when he observes: “If Cedric Morris thought a little less about Cedric Morris he would be a better artist.”