Desmond Morris

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Desmond Morris : biography

24 January 1928 –

Desmond John Morris, FZS (born 24 January 1928) is an English zoologist, ethologist and surrealist painter, as well as a popular author in human sociobiology.

Early life

Born on 24 January 1928 in Purton, Wiltshire, Desmond John Morris is the son of Marjorie and the children’s fiction author Harry Morris. In 1933 Desmond Morris moved to the nearby town of Swindon, which remained his primary home up until 1951. It was during this time in Swindon that Morris began to develop a strong interest in the likes of both natural history and writing. In 1941 Morris attended Dauntsey’s co-educational boarding school for 11-18-year-olds on the northern edge of the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. It was during this time away at school that Morris’s passion for both zoology and the modern visual arts began to intensify and come to surface. Five years later, in 1946, Morris was conscripted into the army for two years of national service. During this time, he became a lecturer in fine arts at the Chisledon Army College. Morris also within this time began to take painting seriously. He was demobilized from the army in 1948, and that year he held his first one-man showing of his own paintings at the Swindon Arts Center in Swindon, Wiltshire, England. Pursuing his interests immediately, that Autumn he enrolled into the Zoology Department as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham as well. Shortly thereafter, Morris graduated earning a First Class Honours Degree in Zoology. Further moving on in 1951 to the Oxford University Zoology department to begin his research into animal behaviour for his doctorate degree, mainly basing his studies on reproductive communication systems. In 1954 he earned a Doctor of Philosophy for his research and works leading to his doctoral thesis regarding the Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-spined Stickleback.


In 1948 Desmond Morris made his first one man debut showing of his artwork (paintings) at the Swindon Art Centre in Wiltshire, England. A short two years later in 1950, he emerges into the surrealist art scene at the London Gallery. For the first time at an event held by the Belgian Surrealist Edouard Mesen’s. Interesting to note, the event was also held with Joan Miró. The following year of 1951, Desmond travels to Belgium to exhibit his paintings at an international art festival. His next art showing wasn’t until 1957 whence he organizes a chimpanzee paintings and drawings exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (a result of his research study into the drawing abilities of apes). In the spring of 1967 upon release of Morris’s first Human behavioral book, he also resigned from his post of Curator held at The London Zoo, and thence became executive director of the London Institute of Contemporary Arts for only a year, until ’68 with the release of The Naked Ape, thus sending Morris on an over twenty-year hiatus from the arts world, while his sociobiology career takes the front seat.

In 1974, shortly after returning from his span painting, studying, and writing in Malta, Southern Europe, Desmond held his first exhibition of his surrealist paintings since before the take off his career in other areas. The showing was held at the Stooshnoff Fine Art Gallery located in back in London. Returning with vengeance, two years later in 1976 Desmond holds 4 more exhibits of paintings, including an exhibit beholding 61 works of his from over 30 years- held at the Public Art Gallery in his once home of Swindon, Wiltshire. Desmond’s next accomplishment in the area of arts is in 1987 when he combines his two passions of writing and art, to create and publish his first book about his surrealist paintings called The Secret Surrealist, introduction by Phillip Oakes. His first showing of paintings after the books release was held the following year in New York at the Shippee Gallery in New York. Desmond continues his showings to this day, with his works being documented and recognized officially by his biographer Silvano Levy in ‘Desmond Morris: 50 Years of Surrealism in 1997. Morris has since then traveled showing his art exhibits around the world, from his home in England branching throughout Europe. Including in 2005 a solo exhibit of paintings by apes from his earlier studies in the 50’s, the exhibit was called “Ape Artists of the 1950’s” and was held at the Mayor Gallery in London, England.