Jardin d’Artiste 1969
Mixed media on paper, 57 x 35.5 cm
Signed Lett & dated ’69
Ixion Society, Benton End, Suffolk
Hintlesham Festival, Suffolk
From Frances Hodgkins to Lucy Wertheim, 8th Aug 1930; Flatford Mill, E. Bergholt, Suffolk
“So very glad to hear all about your latest news. Lett came during the day & I read most of it to him. He was also very pleased that things are going so well, & about Matthew Smith’s interest. He said he had read & filed your letter wh. I had passed on & approved of what you are doing he thought it was all sound sense & good business. He is quite his old self again & his plumage smoothed down. You two mustn’t ruffle up again! … Lett thinks that if you were to give him a small weekly fee he would write articles & get in all sorts of useful & tactful paragraphs. He has rich friends & is a smart fellow & has a lucky touch and is well liked & thought of. Personally speaking I should say his help would be invaluable & we all agree about it”
Arthur Lett-Haines was born in Paddington, London in 1894. Known primarily as a surrealist artist he worked in a range of mediums including painting and sculpture. He dedicated most of his life to promoting the artistic careers of those around him.
Lett-Haines attended St Paul’s School in London and went on to study agriculture at the age of 16. At the outbreak of World War I he enlisted with the British Army and served as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery. During the war years he met and married Gertrude Aimee Lincoln, reputed to be the grand-daughter of President Abraham Lincoln.
After the war Lett-Haines became involved with an artistic group based in Chelsea, London, which included among its members D H Lawrence and the Sitwells. He often threw lavish parties, attracting local artists and writers such as New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield. In 1918 during one of these parties, he met artist Cedric Morris. Morris quickly moved in with Lett-Haines and his wife in Wilmington, Sussex, resulting in the separation of the couple with Gertrude returning to America the following year. They continued to live together as a couple for some sixty years.
In 1918 Lett-Haines and Morris met artist Frances Hodgkins and a close friendship soon blossomed. Morris and Lett-Haines visited her studio in Kensington where they found the walls full of coloured paintings. In 1919, they moved to Newlyn to attend the Newlyn School. The friendship among the trio is evident in the string of portraits they made of one another. A drawing of Hodgkins by Lett-Haines from 1919 is currently held at the National Portrait Gallery in London and Hodgkins’ 1920 portrait of Lett-Haines (FH0665) is held in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Her portrait of Cedric Morris is held in the Towner Art Gallery, U.K. (bequeathed by Lucy Wertheim). Hodgkins was a great influence on Lett-Haines, encouraging him to paint in oil and experiment in post-impressionism.
In 1920 Lett-Haines and Morris moved to Paris where they became involved with a group of expatriate artists including Juan Gris, Marcel Duchamp and Ernest Hemingway. During this time, Lett-Haines studied sculpture at the Académie Colarossi, Paris. New Zealand artists Sydney Lough Thompson and Helen Stewart were also students at the academy.
In 1926 Lett-Haines was the only British artist to be shown at the International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York. He was described by collector Katherine Dreier as “the only Englishman showing understanding of what the Modernists claim as their point of view.” Following this exhibition, Lett-Haines and Morris moved back to London before settling in Suffolk in 1929.
In 1937 Lett-Haines and Morris founded the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. The school was short-lived as the building burnt down in 1939. They moved to a temporary location but soon settled in Hadleigh in a house named Benton End. Locals regarded this property as the “Art House”. His time in the garden at Benton End was a great influence on his works and many of his paintings followed a surrealist nature, featuring human bodies.
Lett-Haines died in 1978, forcing the school to close. Morris continued to live in their home until his death in 1982. The couple are buried near each other at Hadleigh Cemetery. A retrospective exhibition was held at Redfern Gallery for both Morris and Lett-Haines titled Teaching Art and Life in 1984. Lett-Haines’ work can be found in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, and private collections throughout Britain, Europe and New Zealand.
– Kaitlin Stewart