Posted 15th December 2018
The De Morgan Foundation: Object of the Month
Sarah Hardy, De Morgan Foundation Curator
This charming pot was sent from William De Morgan's pottery at Sands End in Fulham to William who was in Florence for a Christmas gift in 1897.
Since 1890, William and Evelyn De Morgan spent winters in Florence in order to escape the cold of London. By this time, William's pottery business had moved to Sands End and he had many staff who worked there, creating ceramics to his specification.
De Morgan was a notoriously generous spirit. In a letter in about 1890, to his business manager at the Sands End pottery, Reginald Blunt, William describes his moral objections to stopping a worker's pay whilst he is off work with a broken ankle. Statutory sick pay wasn't introduced until 1983, putting William about 100 years ahead with his liberal ideas.
It is not a surprise that William's workers elected to send him a Christmas gift, therefore.
The verse reads: 'All this of Pot and Potter – Tell me then, Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot'
The verse is in fact taken from the poet Edward Fitzgerald's 1859 translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1048–1131). Fitzgerald was a Cambridge scholar who had taught himself to read Persian and work on translating ancient texts. His initial publication of the great work of the medieval astronomer poet was largely ignored until Rossetti became interested in it and it was soon a great literary source for the Pre-Raphaelites, allowing them a romantic view of Persia and a gateway to explore exotic imagery.
The verse regarding the potter which adorns William's vase is a metaphor for the creation of myths. Much like a myth which is told and retold over the centuries, the pot is only ever a construction by those who construct it so where the potter ends and the pot begins is a matter for debate. William clearly regarded this gift very highly and would have been amused by the sentiment. He returned to London with it where it remained at home with him until his death in 1917.
See the Christmas Pot on display at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village this December.