Posted 12th August 2018
Grotesque Monster Dish
Spending a little longer taking a closer look at William De Morgan's ceramics is often very rewarding. His beautiful dishes, bowls and vases are so densely decorated with winding foliage and such an array of motifs, and his fantastical beasts so cleverly disguised that they are not at first noticed.
This is particularly true of this small and charming dish on display at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village. At first glance, you notice nothing more than red leaves and a white daisy in the bottom of the dish, until you realise the daisy is an eye and there is a creature starting back at you. Part crocodile and part duck, what the critter is is anyone's guess, but that it came from William's De Morgan's wonderful imagination for such things is certain.
Creating weird and wonderful creatures to decorate De Morgan's designs was a family pastime. In her biography on William De Morgan, his sister-in-law, Mrs Stirling, comments of William and his father's letters 'caricatures, jests, or hobgoblins of weird appearance, "little humbugs" were always to be found scrawled upon every scrap of paper that had been within their reach'. Such imagined creatures were very popular with the Victorian public, who adored fairy stories such as the ones popularised by the Brothers Grimm. De Morgan tiles were purchased by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carrol) for his bedroom at Christchurch College, Oxford, when he was a student of mathematics there and it was supposedly De Morgan's creatures that led to the adventures of the Snark and of course Alice in Wonderland.
The outside of the dish features a red lustre foliage design and the following marks are painted on the base: 'D.M. Fulham' and the decorator's mark 'F.P', showing De Morgan's design was painted onto this bowl by his colleague Fred Passenger.
Curator, De Morgan Foundation
Image: De Morgan and Company, Grotesque Monster Dish, Lustre Earthenware. Decorator: Fred Passenger, Sands End Pottery, Fulham, circa 1888-1907. De Morgan Foundation Collection