Thursday 12 January 2023
This handsome volume accompanies an exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum that will travel to Sacramento and St Petersburg, Florida. It comprises a dozen essays by independent art historians and lecturers, mainly from British universities. Sections include ‘Careers and Context’, ‘Process’ which covers William’s wide-ranging practice and ‘Patronage’, contrasting Evelyn’s success thanks to her influential circle and William’s failure owing to poor business skills. Given the primary interest of the DAS this review is weighted towards William’s ceramics rather than Evelyn’s paintings.
Sarah Hardy describes William the inventor, whose fascination for experimentation may have undermined his success as a maker. Having originally trained as a painter, he evolved ‘the process’ for priming canvas with plaster of Paris in a suspension of animal glue with wax applied to the reverse. Years later he persuaded Evelyn to employ an even more cumbersome version of this process which she quickly abandoned.
Designing stained glass brought William financial success but once he noticed that silver nitrate (used to stain glass yellow) appeared iridescent on over-fired glass he became obsessed with the lost art of lustre glazes. Having mastered complex ceramics techniques, he was commissioned to install historic Islamic tiles at Leighton House. Oliver Watson writes fascinatingly on the evolution of Islamic lustrewares, but with little direct reference to De Morgan’s ceramics. Jan Marsh documents the influence of Italian art on Evelyn’s work, both from her frequent visits to Italy and her familiarity with the Italian collections at London’s National Gallery.
In general, the works of this artistic ‘power couple’, who appear to have executed no joint projects, are dealt with in separate chapters. They are only treated together in terms of their devotion to the ideals of William Morris; the artistic salon at their Chelsea home; and their shared views on Spiritualism and women’s suffrage.
Evelyn & William De Morgan: A Marriage of Arts & Crafts
Margaretta S. Frederick (ed.), Yale University Press, 2022, £35 hb
Condensed from a review by Stella Beddoe in DAS Newsletter No. 127