Tag Archives: Margaret Morris

Miss Morris’s earthly paradise

“Back in the 1920s my sister left the Cyanographers and followed the teacher to her secluded retreat in the south.”


Plate 30


When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,

The mother of months in meadow or plain

Fills the shadows and windy places

With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;

And the brown bright nightingale amorous

Is half assuaged for Itylus

For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces

The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.


Plate 23


Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers,

Maiden most perfect, lady of light,

With a noise of winds and many rivers,

With a clamour of waters, and with might;


Plate 24


Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet,

Over the splendour and speed of thy feet;

For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers,

Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night.


Plate 28


Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her,

Fold our hands round her knees, and cling?

O that man’s heart were as fire and could spring to her

Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring!


Plate 32


For winter’s rains and ruins are over,

And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

The light that loses, the night that wins;


Plate 17


And time remember’d is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.


Plate 16


And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,

Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,

Follows with dancing and fills with delight

The Mænad and the Bassarid;


Plate 39


And soft as lips that laugh and hide

The laughing leaves of the trees divide,

And screen from seeing and leave in sight

The god pursuing, the maiden hid.


Plate 27


The ivy falls with the Bacchanal’s hair

Over her eyebrows hiding her eyes;

The wild vine slipping down leaves bare

Her bright breast shortening into sighs;


Plate 15


The wild vine slips with the weight of its leaves,

But the berried ivy catches and cleaves

To the limbs that glitter, the feet that scare

The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies.


Plate 31


“My sister liked to imagine that the place existed out of time, that the earthly paradise was still there and the teacher was still waiting for her.”


Plate 25


The verses come from the Chorus from Atlanta in Calydon by Algernon Swinburne which I first encountered in an anthology when I was a teenager. Swinburne was mentioned briefly in the Victorian Dreamtime post along with the Rossetti family. They are all characters in Tim Power’s recent novel Hide me among the graves which I can highly recommend if you like very strange books.

Thanks to Alex Buchholz of Westminster Central Reference Library for loaning me the book from which I scanned the images, Margaret Morris Dancing which features the photographs of Fred Daniels.


As I’ve been a bit economical with the text this week here is a little extra.

Lady Clementina Hawarden who I featured in the blog last year (The first fashion photographer – see link opposite or go straight there : https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-first-fashion-photographer-clementina-lady-hawarden/ ) is in the news. An album of her photographs and sketches is coming up for auction at Bonhams in March and is expected to sell for up to £150,000. (http://www.bonhams.com/press_release/12780/) It’s no surprise that there should be huge interest in new pictures by one of the most significant figures in the history of photography. You can find some samples at Mail Online (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2274357/Lady-Hawardens-19th-century-prints-sale.html) where there are some nice large images and on the Telegraph site (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/9854840/Lady-Clementina-Hawarden-one-of-Britains-first-female-photographers.html)  where there is also a gallery of 10 images.

I had been planning to do another post about her myself but now I think I’ll save that idea for another day. In the meantime here is a self portrait of Lady Hawarden herself which I found at www.artblart.com . It has the same quiet and unearthly atmosphere as the pictures she took of her daughters.

self portrait lady clementina hawarden

I won’t be bidding myself on 19th March but if you have a few hundred thousand burning a hole in your pocket you could do worse. It would be good if the album ended up in public hands where we could all get to see the pictures

The dancer from the dance: Margaret Morris

Margaret Morris Theatre

“O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?” W.B Yeats 1928

W B Yeats, 63 when he wrote those lines in the poem Among School Children was probably not thinking of the work of Margaret Morris, already a successful dancer, choreographer and teacher. But they seem to fit.

MM 1923 from CS1336 crop

By the 1920s Margaret Morris had a club and a small theatre in Flood Street both named after her. At the Club, founded in 1915, she and her partner the painter John Duncan Fergusson mixed with artists and writers such as Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, Katherine Mansfield, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Ezra Pound, all of whom at some time lived nearby in Chelsea or Kensington. At her theatre she presented music, drama and dance performed by both adults and children.

MM article from CM1759 detail 01MM article from CM1759 detail 01a

Morris had been dancing from a very young age and by the precocious age of 12 had begun to reject the strictures of classical ballet. In 1909 she met Raymond Duncan, brother of Isadora Duncan, who taught her the six Greek positions, adapted from images on ancient Greek vases. She elaborated on these to produce her own dance system aiming at naturalism and freedom.

Morris and Fergusson ran annual summer schools in Devon and the south of France where the emphasis was on learning and performing in natural surroundings – “almost ideal conditions”. There were lectures on painting and dance from Morris, Fergusson and others, ballroom dancing in the evening, and during the daytime plenty of this:

Three dancers  get into position on a beach with the waves coming in behind them.MM  flyer from CM photo

Below the student dancers are posing in front of a cliff in a rocky stream.

MM article from CM1760 detail 02a - Copy

Here a large group disport themselves around an ornamental pond in a classical garden in Hampstead. It looks a little like an act of worship.

MM article from CM1760 detail 03

I know very little about the history of dance. But these images grab your attention. When I first came across them I tried to find more. There is something esoteric perhaps even magical about them although they belong to the period of modernism rather than fin de siècle occultism. The ritualistic element brings out the imaginative connection with ancient Greece. (Morris was also influenced by Rudolf Steiner the founder of anthroposophy which has been described as a Christianised form of Theosophy, an occult philosophy still popular in the 1920s).

Morris herself was a charismatic figure obviously supremely confident when striking a pose for the camera as here in this alarming posture:

MM dance from CS1194 crop

Or in “The dance of the bow”, looking like an Amazon warrior:

MM Dance of the bow CS1548 crop compressed

Or just worshiping nature:

MM at Antibes CS1546 crop compressed

Morris also developed her dance system as a form of therapy.

In 1927 she presented a matinee at the Chelsea Palace in aid of the Heritage Craft Schools for Cripples.

MM Matinee dance from CS 01 main photo

In the programme for the event the Medical Director of the school Surgeon Commander Murray Levick writes “Miss Morris’s educational gymnastics have been found admirably suited to various stages of crippledom and it is on that account that she has been invited to Chailey with such great advantage to the crippled children there”. His use of the word cripple sounds wrong to modern ears but the intentions of the school were progressive in its own time. One of the dances in the programme, the Enchanted Garden was performed by children from the school.

Margaret Morris had a lengthy career in dance and physical education in London and Scotland and lived until 1980 (She trained the dancers for a production of the musical Hair in Glasgow when she was 83). The Margaret Morris Movement organisation now continues in centres in many countries.

But what stays with me are these striking images of dancers in unfamiliar poses, the dance equivalent of all the new developments in literature and art in the 1920s.

Below, two barefoot  dancers adopt a symmetrical pose.

MM article from CM1760 detail 01MM article from CM1760 detail 01b

Above a dancer in a costume designed by Lois Hutton for a piece employing music by Ravel.

The dancers look deeply serious but at the same time oddly comic. Morris was not unaware of the element of humour in her work so if they make you smile remember she may keeping a straight face in the picture below but inwardly she was smiling right back at you.

MM article from CM1759 detail 02

All of the images in this post come from items in our scrapbooks but you can find more on the internet if they have whetted your appetite for the unique imagination of Margaret Morris.

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