#DeMorganWeek: The De Morgan Story

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Posted 28th August 2018

The De Morgan Story


The De Morgan Foundation owns an unparalleled collection of ceramics and oil paintings by the late 19th and early 20th century artists William and Evelyn De Morgan. The collection was originally formed by Evelyn's sister, Mrs Wilhelmina Stirling, who bequeathed her substantial art collection to be looked after in Trust upon her death in 1965, and the De Morgan Foundation Charity was formally created and charged with this duty in 1967. The Foundation owns 56 framed oil paintings and over 600 drawings by Evelyn De Morgan and over 700 ceramics by William De Morgan, including individual tiles and tile panels, dishes, chargers, bowls and vases. In addition, the Foundation possesses archive material including a small collection of letters, drawings, plays, personal effects and family documents relating to William and Evelyn De Morgan. Mrs Stirling housed the collection at her home, Old Battersea House, where it remained on view after her death once the Forbes family had purchased the house. Later, the collection was loaned across the UK to Knightshayes Court in Devon and to Cardiff Castle, for example. The Foundation opened its own museum in Wandsworth in 2002 where it remained until 2015. The Foundation now displays its collection at partner venues across the UK, at the Watts Gallery – Artists' Village, Surrey, at Cannon Hall, Barnsley and at Wightwight Manor, Wolverhampton. The Foundation also works closely with Royal Museums Greenwich and the Ashmolean in Oxford who have large-scale and long-term loans of collection items on display in their respective 19th century galleries.

Evelyn De Morgan was one of the first female artists to attend the Slade School of Art in London where she won medals for her exquisite painting, drawing and draughtsmanship. As an artist with a social consciousness, her subjects reflect some of the intellectual issues of Victorian and early 20 th century society, such as women's suffrage and pacifism, many of which are still relevant today. Symbolism and the theosophical movement of Spiritualism were strong threads in Evelyn's work. As an active campaigner in the Suffrage Movement, women's emancipation is a theme that is prevalent in her artwork throughout her career. Evelyn was a pacifist and abhorred the horrors of war. In 1916, she exhibited and sold paintings on the theme of WWI in aid of the Red Cross. Therefore, the Foundation's collection of 56 of her oil paintings is of great interest to a range of audiences. The Foundation regularly lends to scholarly exhibitions in the UK and abroad which explore her political, intellectual and artistic ideas. Since only 8 paintings by Evelyn exist in public collections in the UK, the Foundation is chiefly responsible for allowing access for the general public to her work.

William De Morgan was the foremost ceramic artist of the Arts and Crats Movement. He began his career working with William Morris on stained glass. Through learning the process of this craft, he became interested in lustre glazing and began his own ceramic business in 1872. He is widely recognised as having reinvented the lost art of lusterware and his technical skill is studied by historians and practicing ceramicists to this day. De Morgan was a key member of the Victorian Arts and Crafts movement and the Foundation's collection of his ceramics is important to an audience with a wide range of interests in ceramics, arts and crafts and the Victorian period.

The collection owned by the De Morgan Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive single collection in the world of artwork by the De Morgans, who were pivotal artists of their time. It is incredibly rare to find the work of an artistic couple in different media in one single collection and the Foundation is unique in this respect. As such, items from the collection are often requested for loans to exhibitions nationally and internationally. Evelyn De Morgan's Flora (1898) is currently on loan to the Legion of Honor, San Francisco and the Foundation lent 14 pieces of ceramic to an exhibition held in Madrid and Barcelona on the Arts and Crafts movement last year.

Sarah Hardy
Curator, De Morgan Foundation

You can find out more about the De Morgan Foundation on their website.

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