Curated in conjunction with Arts and Crafts property, National Trust Standen, De Morgans and the Sea gives visitors the opportunity to explore maritime influences in the work of the De Morgans
. The theme of the sea was a major source of inspiration for both William De Morgans Arts and Crafts ceramics and his wife Evelyns paintings. Medieval galleons manned by sailors on the lookout for giant fish, dolphins and sea monsters form part of William De Morgans quirky cast of characters. Evelyns paintings of mythological subjects such as Ariadne (looking more stoical than distraught after being abandoned on the island of Naxos by her lover Theseus) or her depictions of Hans Christian Andersons much adored little mermaid reinterpret these classic tales for a new audience.
As well as drawing inspiration from the sea, much of De Morgans work was destined to travel the waves themselves, as commissions for the P&O shipping line. The superlative Galleon tile panel, designed for the P&O ship S.S.Malta in 1895, will be exhibited alongside key pieces from the De Morgan collection, including a spectacular moonlight lustre punch bowl depicting fanciful fish which represents the pinnacle of De Morgans technical prowess, and a very rare, early seahorse tile whose production techniques mirror the matt quality of Morris and Co. tiles. Among Evelyns exhibited works are the nude male figures of Phosphorous and Hesperus, which, imbued with potent sexual symbolism in the form of phallic torches and conch shells, caused scandal and controversy when first exhibited, and the allegorical S.O.S with its symbolic sea monsters representing evil and death.
Galleon Tile Panel
Between 1882 and 1900 De Morgan and Co. provided tile schemes for the interiors of 12 P&O ships. One of the key exhibits at the Centre is a Galleon tile panel, designed for the P&O ship s.s.Malta in 1895. The De Morgan Foundation purchased this panel at auction in 2006 with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund. The exhibition explores De Morgans link with P&O and tiles, designs and photographs of the ship interiors all provide a fascinating insight into the style and atmosphere of the age.
The De Morgans
William (1839-1917) and Evelyn (1855-1919) De Morgan were both highly respected artists in their own rights. They married in 1887 and in addition to their art, they became involved in many of the leading issues of the day including, prison reform, pacifism and spiritualism.
Together they were also involved with the Suffragette movement. Evelyn was a signatory for the "Declaration in Favour of Women's Suffrage" in 1889 and William showed his support by serving as Vice President of the "Men's League for Women's Suffrage" in 1913.
They lived together in London until William died in 1917. Evelyn died two years later on 2 May 1919 in London and they are both buried in Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey.
They were described by Sir Edward Poynter (President of the Royal Academy) as "...two of the rarest spirits of the Age."
William De Morgan
The most important ceramicist of the Arts and Crafts Movement, De Morgan rediscovered the lost art of lustre decoration and the brilliant colours of Islamic pottery, particularly the bright turquoise which features prominently in his ceramic work. He was especially inspired by Isnik work of the 16th century. De Morgan began his artistic career working alongside contemporaries William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, before opening his own potters studio in Chelsea.
De Morgan worked primarily as a ceramic designer, and had a substantial staff of decorators. These included Joe Juster and Charles and Fred Passenger, whose initials can often be seen on De Morgan pieces.
During his career, De Morgan worked on a range of commissions, from stately homes to the Czar of Russias yacht, and his tiles decorated the public rooms and corridors of several P&O Liners.
De Morgan was also a stained glass artist, inventor and chemist. After his pottery closed in 1904 he embarked on a career as a novelist and in the final years before his death he published seven novels, all of which enjoyed enormous success and brought their author the financial security which had until then eluded him.
De Morgan was actively involved with the issues of his day such as education, prison reform, the suffragette movement, pacifism and spiritualism
Evelyn De Morgan
Evelyn was inspired to become an artist by her uncle, the symbolist painter John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. In 1873 she was one of the first women to attend the recently opened Slade School of Art. She won many medals and awards at the Slade and as an up and coming young artist was invited to exhibit at the opening exhibition of the influential Grosvenor Gallery, alongside such established names as Edward Burne-Jones, George Frederick Watts and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
Evelyn spent much of her time in Italy, particularly in Florence where her artist uncle lived. The influence of Botticelli and his contemporaries is apparent in the style of many of her paintings.
In 1887 Evelyn and William De Morgan married. While each continued to practise their own work, they jointly became interested in and involved with many of the social issues of their day.