Edward Morris: 1940-2016

by Dr. Philip Ward-Jackson

He was what one might call a mandarin of art history, whose quiet labours and massive erudition were placed at the service of the public in his two capacities as Curator of Fine Art at the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool between 1966 and 1999, and as Chairman of the Editorial Board of the PMSA’s National Recording Project from 1997 to 2015. 

Born in 1940, Edward’s schooldays at Rugby were followed by a degree course in History at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and an MA in Art-history at the Courtauld Institute. His art-historical interests were by no means confined to sculpture. Fluent in Spanish and French, his magnum opusFrench Art in Nineteenth-Century Britain, published by Yale University Press in 2005, was a testimony to his international approach, and was the fruit of several decades of research and a lifetime of background reading. International though it was, one of this volume’s most distinctive features is its exploration of the collecting habits of the mercantile classes of nineteenth-century Lancashire. Another of its features is its substantial coverage of sculpture and architecture. At the Walker, Edward’s inclusive attitude to the more plastic arts had already borne fruit in the sculpture gallery, opened in 1988, seemingly in celebration of the Walker becoming a national collection in the previous year. The determination to show all the gallery’s holdings in this area indicated a responsiveness on the part of the museum’s curators to the interest in Victorian sculpture awakened by Benedict Read and Susan Beattie. It was a challenge to which our metropolitan museums and galleries had rather conspicuously failed to respond.

The local emphasis of his book, reflecting Edward’s deep attachment to his home region, was also at the root of his involvement with the PMSA. A project to record local public monuments, which the Walker’s director Timothy Stevens had launched at the Walker, and which was later taken over by Edward, was the model or pilot scheme which the PMSA adopted for its National Recording Project. This survey was to form the basis of Terry Cavanagh’s exemplary first volume of the published series, Public Sculpture of Liverpool (1997). This, like all the subsequent volumes was published by Liverpool University Press, with which the Walker curators enjoyed a close working relationship. Thenceforward, it was through Edward’s patient shepherding of authors and tireless fund-raising efforts that seventeen volumes were produced. In addition to this editorial activity, Edward himself rounded out the coverage of his home area, by writing the Cheshire and Merseyside volume, and contributing much scholarly input into David Cross’s forthcoming volume, Public Sculpture of North Lancashire and Cumbria.

Also read The Guardian online Edward Morris obituary by PMSA trustee and former Sculpture Journal editor, Katharine Eustace FSA.

Aurora Corio