Posted 3rd September 2019
Discover the De Morgans
William De Morgan was a ceramic designer with a keen interest in the structure of patterns and the aesthetic qualities of motifs. In 1863, he met the Arts and Crafts designer William Morris, who inspired him to drop out of the traditional Royal Academy of Arts where he was studying to become a painter, and embark on a career as a designer instead. William De Morgan began designing and making stained glass soon after, and completed large schemes for windows at least 12 churches across the country. These church commissions inspired De Morgan with a love of a simplistic medieval style and he would continue to use flattened, stylised floral motifs and patterns in his designs throughout his career.
In 1872, William opened his own ceramics business in Chelsea. He soon became well know for his Arts and Crafts tiles and won a number of commissions including to create a bespoke design for Bedford Park in London through the architect, Richard Norman Shaw. The most important commission for his design career however, was with another Royal Academician, Frederick, Lord Leighton, who employed William to install his collection of Islamic tiles into the new Arab Hall extension of his home in Holland Park. William was inspired to use the symbols, motifs and colours he learnt about from these tiles in designs from this point forward, creating a stunning and instantly recognisable visual identity.
William was already a well established designer when he met Evelyn Pickering, a young professional artist. Following a long engagement, the two married in 1887, when he was 47 and she was 32.
Evelyn had reacted against her middle class upbringing and the expectations polite society placed on young women to realise her dream of becoming an artist. She trained at the newly established Slade School of Art at the University College London, the first school to allow women to draw from the nude model, a radical idea for the time and something which was still taboo. She excelled in her drawings and compositional work and won a full scholarship of £50 per annum for her studies.
Evelyn's early pictures were painted in the popular Aesthetic style of painting and feature long female figures from classical literature on desolate beaches. Her work was instantly commercially successful at the Dudley, Grosvenor, New and Guildhall Art Galleries which she exhibited at.
Her mature works are more personal and act as a window to her socio-political concerns. She painted spiritualism, pacifism and feminism in rich detail and beautiful, glowing colours.
Both artists were extraordinarily talented and excelled in their fields. William passed away in 1917, followed by Evelyn in 1919, leaving behind them a truly astonishing body of work which was collected by Evelyn's younger sister, Wilhelmina Stirling, and is today looked after by a charitable trust, which relies on donations from generous supporters to continue its work.
Find out more about Evelyn and William De Morgan on the De Morgan Collection website.