“I have heard briefly from Edith Morgan, at Christmas. She was visiting in Rome.” Ruth Graves, 1949
After identifying Ruth Graves, I felt it would be relatively easy to find Edith Morgan, the mutual friend mentioned in Graves’ 1949 letter to George Orwell. I thought that searching passenger records or looking for an artist in late 20s Paris via American or French newspapers would provide plenty of leads. And yes, I did find a number of candidates that seemed very plausible.
There was Edith Morgan, the photographer, educated at the same art school in Chicago as Graves but it became apparent she never travelled to France – or even left the USA. Another Edith married and divorced a poet and lived in Paris but not during 1928-9 when Eric Blair resided in the 5th arrondissement. A third Edith Morgan had a connection with Vogue magazine and travelled many times to Paris but she just did not quite match either.
I read some books about the women of the Left Bank, expatriates and artists, mining the bibliographies for French sources – but to no avail. I searched in French via Google.fr and emailed specialists, who all replied. Nothing.
The vast numbers of Americans in Paris surprised me; almost 10 000 in the 1926 census. I learnt that many foreigners registered with the police and requested files from Les Archives de la Préfecture de Police. Files were forthcoming for Ruth Graves, Eugène Adam, Eric Blair and Edith Morgan. This Edith was married to an American consular official and had a child in Paris. Not what I expected at all. A little more digging and yet again, it was the wrong Edith Morgan.I made an account at the Archives Nationales de France and found one reference to “MORGAN, Mme Edith 7 décembre 1928” in the Travaux d’art, musées et expositions. 1er volume, 2e volume (XIXe-XXe siècles). This is a two-volume record of art works, museums and exhibitions for the 19-20th century and a kind French archivist explained that the “files contain documents about works of art which have been purchased from Edith Morgan by French official institutions”.
I requested a standard digital copy of the material, with the magical reference code F/21/4250, and waited (im)patiently. What would such a document contain? I assumed there would be the titles of the artwork(s) and the prices paid and perhaps the exhibitions the works had appeared. In my wilder dreams, I hoped there would be an address, biography and a quote from the artist.
How long would such a request take? I knew that if this drew a blank and was not the Edith Morgan, my next move was not clear.
For the grand total of seven Euro, eight zipped files finally arrived via an emailed link. It was instantly apparent that Edith and Ruth both exhibited at the Societé Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1928. The French government purchased one of Edith’s paintings, ‘Fleurs’, for 500 francs from this exhibition. The documents recorded that Edith resided at ‘9 rue Campagn-Première’ and was ‘Anglaise, néé á Cambridge Angleterre’.
Now I knew that Edith was English not American I felt it would be much easier to find her but this was still not the case. I had no birth or death date. I did have her signature and an address but could not find a birth or death certificate.
However, having already mapped Ruth Graves’ addresses in Paris, it was now evident that she lived next door to Edith confirming that this was Orwell’s other artist friend from 1928-9 mentioned in Graves’ letter. Morgan had resided at 9 rue Campagn-Première for many years from 1911 and Ruth likely moved into 8 bis rue Campagn-Première in 1925. She was definitely living there by 1926.
Newspaper searches did have some brief mentions of this English artist in Paris but no concrete detail. There were artists mentioned that formed a school of sorts and Edith was listed as one of the more promising or successful exponents of a particular style. One interesting example was found in the Le Petit Parisien: journal quotidien du soir from 29th April 1930:
Ms. Olga Boznańska, who is not exhibiting this year, yet has several disciples who remember her veiled and sober method, all English by the way, of which Mary Upton, Alison Greene and Edith Morgan stand out.
After a great deal of time searching French newspapers I tried passenger records again and found several documents that finally led to more detail about Edith Morgan, artist.
Edith Florence Morgan (1872-1960)
Edith Florence Morgan (1872-1960) was born in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire. She listed ‘Cambridge’ as her birthplace for catalogs, when she exhibited in Paris, which no doubt sounded more impressive. Her father was Arthur Robert Morgan (1844-1927) and her mother, Rhoda Miller (1849-1931).
Edith had five siblings including a brother who was also an artist. Edwin Ernest Morgan (1881-1964) lived and travelled with his sister and was clearly the most significant person to her, over many years, as he inherited £1172 16s. 2d. on Edith’s death. He painted the local area around Torquay and exhibited in London.
There are several pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that troubled me for weeks as I searched for birth and death certificates. When I started to assume that Edith lied about her age, by 10 years, when she travelled with her brother, all fell neatly into place. There was no other possible answer considering the other evidence amassed. If that is accepted (and as she travels with Edwin and his age is recorded correctly for the voyage) everything else fits perfectly.
The key address listed in these passenger records was “Dolton” 38 Meadfoot Lane, Torquay, Devon. I went on to locate this address multiple times but the first time it was virtually unreadable. This address led to Edith’s will and made the discovery of other core documents possible. The passenger record confirmed that Edith was an ‘artist’ residing in Paris. It is also fascinating that Edith visited Algiers, where Ruth Graves spent time with JP Morgan’s daughter painting in the North African sun. Anne Morgan was famous for assisting French soldiers during the war and in the interwar period often had artists visit her in Algiers. It is very possible that Edith met Anne Morgan prior to WWI in Paris and introduced Ruth to the industrialist’s daughter.
The sources listing Morgan’s artwork, especially catalogs and artist dictionaries, assisted in the creation of a timeline. In 1905 Morgan had a portrait hung at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, which houses one of the largest art collections in England, outside London. She exhibited The Head of a Girl for The Royal Academy of Arts in London during May-August 1907 and The Study of an Old Woman four years later at the 1911 exhibition. She is listed as residing in Paris during this year at the address already mentioned.
Between 1911 and 1935 Morgan exhibits many times in the Parisian salons. She returned to Devon, docking in Torquay, in 1927 when her father died and again, in 1931, on the death of her mother. By 1939 she resides in Devon, at the home of her parents: “Dolton” 38 Meadfoot Lane, Torquay, Devon. Her brother Edwin has a studio in London during most of the period Edith is abroad in Paris. They both travelled to New York and Algiers.
Sylvia Beach, the famous American owner of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, kept ledger books about subscriptions and book renewals. There is no record of Ruth Graves but a “Mrs. Morgan” was a member from Aug. 12 1924 to Sept. 12 1924, and from Aug. 21, 1928 to Sept. 21, 1928. Beach did not record a first name. It is not possible to know whether this is two different people or even the Edith Morgan in question but it is possible. Edith is listed as ‘Madam’ in other French documents. The first dates do not seem to match with the other Edith Morgans’ time in Paris but it is hard to be sure.
Morgan was in Rome during 1948 but I can find no record of this other than Ruth Graves’ letter to Orwell in 1949. Edith Morgan dies at 87 years of age, in 1960, while residing at Lower Warberry Road in Torquay.
Living next door and painting Ruth Graves?
A book of British artists, Les Peintres Britanniques Dans Les Salons Parisiens Des Origines à 1939, lists all Edith’s paintings exhibited in Paris salons. The most exciting information was that a 1927 painting was titled, Une Dame Américaine. It is probable that this portrait is of Ruth Graves.
Two paintings, of a naked middle-aged woman by Edith Florence Morgan have been also been uncovered. One is titled, Nude Study and the other, Study of a Female Nude.
In 1926, Edith was aged 54 years of age and Ruth a decade younger, when they lived next door to each other in rue Campagn-Première. It is highly likely that these two portraits by Morgan are of Graves. How many middle-aged women would one be able to persuade to pose stepping from the bath? Considering they lived next door to each other would seem that Ruth was very possibly the subject of these two paintings. I have not yet been able to date them but they appear to be from the period in question or possibly the 1930s.
So far, my attempts to contact the owners of these painting have failed. If the 1927 one, Une Dame Américaine, was located it could possibly confirm the identity of the subject.
As I write this post, an elderly woman in Kansas has just read my article in the Wichita State University alumni magazine and has shared that she has a number of paintings owned (and by) Ruth Graves in her attic. She is waiting for a younger relative to assist with locating them and photographing. Possibly some further light may be shed. Maybe Ruth kept some of Edith’s paintings? Maybe Ruth painted Edith?
This passport photo of Ruth also suggest she could be the subject in Edith’s paintings. There is a clear likeness. What do you think?
There’s not much in this post about Orwell. I assume you have read these two posts which discuss his time in Paris. My hope is that by identifying those who knew him in Paris, like Ruth Graves and Edith Morgan, more primary sources will be discovered. It feels possible that letters discussing the period 1928-9 may have been written by Edith or Ruth discussing a writer named Orwell, whom they knew as Eric.
A French newspaper described Morgan (in 1930) as one of ‘the intrepid battalion of Anglo-Saxon women’ artists and says ‘she is distinguished from her peers in that she has a nice taste in colour and does not systematise to excess’. Maybe this ‘battalion’ of artists included some whom Graves or Morgan introduced Blair to when they knew him?
Orwell wrote in 1940:
“In some quarters of the town the so-called artists must actually have outnumbered the working population—indeed, it has been reckoned that in the late ’twenties there were as many as 30,000 painters in Paris, most of them impostors. The populace had grown so hardened to artists that gruff-voiced Lesbians in corduroy breeches and young men in Grecian or medieval costume could walk the streets without attracting a glance, and along the Seine banks by Notre Dame it was almost impossible to pick one’s way between the sketching-stools.” (CW XII p. 86)
In my wilder speculative moments, I hope that a drawing, painting or sketch of Blair will be uncovered. He certainly had plenty of time during this period to sit for a portrait and plenty of friends who were not ‘impostors’ to draw his likeness.
Graves and Morgan, whom I have a great deal more to learn about, are interesting figures in their own right and worthy of study. It is almost certain that Orwell’s understanding of lesbian culture on the left bank in Paris was experienced by his friendship with these two women.
I hold hope that more residents of Wichita, in Kansas, will be able to assist with my research into Ruth Graves. Edith Morgan had four brothers and a sister. Perhaps someone in her family tree has more information about Edith?
Ancestry.com. UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 database on-line. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists. Class: BT26; Piece: 852
Ancestry.com. UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 database on-line. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1027
Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England
Crespon-Halotier, Béatrice; Meslay, Olivier (2003) Les Peintres Britanniques dans les Salons Parisiens des Origines à 1939, Dijon: L’Échelle de Jacob
Graves, Ruth (1949) Letter 23rd July, Orwell Archive
Green, Nancy L. (2019) (Neither) Expatriates (n)or Immigrants? The American Colony in Paris, 1880-1940. [online] Journals.openedition.org. Available at: https://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/6893 [Accessed 16 Mar. 2019].
Kotin, Joshua (2019) email correspondence re: Sylvia Beach, 11 February
Les Archives de la Préfecture de police (2019) Email correspondence re: police records for Eric Blair, Edith Morgan, Ruth Graves and Eugene Adam, 21-25 January. Accessed online at: https://www.prefecturedepolice.interieur.gouv.fr/Nous-connaitre/Services-et-missions/Service-de-la-memoire-et-des-affaires-culturelles/Les-archives-de-la-prefecture-de-police#ancre-1
Le Petit Parisien: journal quotidien du soir (1930) “Le Salon de 1930” 29 April. [online] Available at: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k626620w/f7.image Accessed 8 Mar. 2019.
Le Temps (1930) “Le Salon de 1930” 9 May. Available at: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k247864b/f3.image.r=%22edith%20morgan%22?rk=321890;0 Accessed 8 Mar. 2019
Moore, Darcy (2019) Orwell in Paris: Ruth Graves. Available online at http://www.darcymoore.net/tag/ruth-eleanor-graves/ Blog Posts
Orwell, George (1998) A Patriot After All (1940-1941), The Complete Works of George Orwell, Vol. 12, Davison, Peter (ed.) London: Secker & Warburg
Orwell, George (1998) Our Job is to Make Life Worth Living (1949-1950), The Complete Works of George Orwell, Vol. 20, Davison, Peter (ed.) London: Secker & Warburg
Perleberg, Anna and Platt, Dr George (2008). “A Girl Who Went From Wichita to Paris and Won Success” – Spring 2008 – THE SHOCKER. [online] Available at: http://wsu.wichita.edu/the-shocker/story.php?eid=1&id=231#.XDm8lM8zbOT [Accessed 12 Jan. 2019].
Siv.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr. (2019). Recherche – Salle des inventaires virtuelle. [online] Available at: https://www.siv.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/siv/rechercheconsultation/recherche/ir/rechercheGeneralisteResultat.action?formCaller=GENERALISTE&searchText=Edith+Morgan [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
Wichita Eagle (1926) “A Girl Who Went From Wichita to Paris and Won Success” Sunday Magazine, June 13 (Courtesy of Wichita Public Library)