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The De Morgan Gallery at Wightwick

The Malthouse Gallery at Wightwick Manor and Gardens, West Midlands
The Malthouse Gallery at Wightwick Manor and Gardens | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

In partnership with the De Morgan Foundation, a new exhibition at Wightwick Manor displays drawings and paintings by the pioneering female artist, Evelyn De Morgan and the creations of her husband, the preeminent ceramic designer, William De Morgan. Showcasing the artistic achievements of this creative couple, ‘Look Beneath the Lustre’ invites you to consider how Evelyn and William were inspired to create art.

Curated by National Trust Assistant Curator, Hannah Squire, in partnership with De Morgan Foundation Curator-Manager, Sarah Hardy, the exhibition explores the processes and people that assisted in the creation of their work as well as the art movement that inspired the De Morgans and the Manders.

Art for Arts sake

Wightwick Manor is a house of the Aesthetic Movement. Aestheticism, ‘Art for Art’s sake’, championed by Oscar Wilde, inspired the interiors at Wightwick and the art of the De Morgans.

This exhibition explores how influential the Aesthetic Movement was to them.

Working process of artists

The Manders were interested in collecting objects that show the artists working process. In the exhibition, Evelyn’s sketchbooks from Wightwick’s collection alongside her preparatory sketches and palette from the De Morgan Foundation, are on public display, some for the first time.

In ‘Look Beneath the Lustre’, Evelyn’s struggles as a female artist are explored, and the relationships that fostered and championed her creativity, Jane Hales and John Roddam Spencer Stanhope are discussed.

William's partnerships

William’s process in designing ceramics, his creative partnerships with William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones and the painters he worked with Charles and Fred Passenger are also examined.

Working in partnership with the V&A and National Portrait Gallery, on loan to the exhibition is the portrait of William by Evelyn.

The incredible lustreware vase featured in the painting and William’s preparatory sketch for the design of the vase are on display next to the painting.

The De Morgans and Wightwick Manor

The De Morgan Foundation was established by Wilhelmina Stirling, the younger sister of radical Victorian painter Evelyn De Morgan.

She proudly displayed her vast collection of works by her sister and brother-in-law, ceramicist William De Morgan, at her home, Old Battersea House in London until her death in the 1960s.

Over her lifetime, Wilhelmina Stirling collected nearly 70 oil paintings and 600 pieces of ceramic by the De Morgans and was well-acquainted with other collectors of Victorian Art, including the Mander family of Wightwick Manor.

Safeguarding the collection

So close was her friendship with the Manders and such was their interest in safeguarding the collection, that they offered for the entire De Morgan Collection to be stored at Wightwick Manor – away from harm in the London Blitz – during the Second World War.

Since at least 1997, when Wightwick accepted a bequest of De Morgan pictures and ceramics from Wilhelmina and Evelyn’s niece, Phyllis Pickering, curators here have mooted the idea of a De Morgan Gallery being made from the old Malt House building.

In 2016, the De Morgan Foundation Trustees and the National Trust collaborated to realise decades of ambition to bring the collection to Wightwick Manor.

William De Morgan

The foremost ceramicist of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who delighted Victorian audiences with his fantastical beasts, Middle Eastern flora and fauna and wondrous iridescent lusterware.

Over his long career, he won commissions for Leighton House, 12 P&O liners and the jewel-like home of Sir Ernest Debenham.

His terrible business sense led to the eventual closure of the potteries in 1907 and his illustrious second career as a novelist.

Evelyn De Morgan

Evelyn De Morgan was one of the most skilled and radical artists of the late Victorian period.

Her work was inspired stylistically by movements contemporary to her practice, such as Aestheticism, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Symbolism, but defies these by including narrative that satisfies her own socio-political concerns such as suffrage, spiritualism and pacifism.

She began her artistic practice at the age of 17 and soon won a scholarship for the Slade School of Art. Later in her career, she held a solo exhibition in London in 1906 and in Wolverhampton in 1907, which was an unprecedented success for a female artist at that time.

The De Morgan Foundation

Upon Wilhelmina Stirling’s death, the Foundation was formed and charged with the care and promotion of the De Morgan collection and has since worked to display the paintings and ceramics across the UK and through an ambitious programme of international loans.

A key part of the De Morgan Foundation’s aim is to provide access to the collection through a network of strategic partnerships with like-minded organisations.

The exhibition at Wightwick Manor is the third of these partnerships and visiting the collection at Evelyn De Morgan’s family home, Cannon Hall, Barnsley, or at the De Morgans’ old haunt the Watts Gallery, Surrey, is a must for any Victorian art lover.

A New Chapter for the De Morgan Foundation at Wightwick Manor: The William De Morgan Tile Library

The De Morgan Foundation and Wightwick Manor are delighted to announce the grand opening of The William De Morgan Tile Library at Wightwick Manor, a bespoke display space showcasing over 400 unique tiles by William De Morgan.

Supported by generous funding from the Mander Trust, this exciting new chapter in the partnership between the De Morgan Foundation and Wightwick Manor sees the transformation of an attic space in the Malthouse Gallery into a beautiful new resource for tile enthusiasts.

For years, the De Morgan Foundation held a treasure trove of William De Morgan's tiles, totaling over 1000 unique designs, in storage. While these tiles were safely conserved, the public had been unable to access them. The recent redevelopment of this unique space has enabled the entire De Morgan tile collection to be displayed for the first time.

The Tile Library provides a chromatic journey through De Morgan's tile artistry, showcasing the evolution of his designs over his prolific 30-year career. Visitors will have the opportunity to explore his daringly intricate creations, adaptable to diverse domestic and public settings. The exhibition is curated in colour order, allowing patrons to make connections and observe the nuanced differences between the glazed surfaces, reflecting De Morgan's wide range of influences, from the natural world to Islamic art.

Open to view every day from Saturday 13 January 2024. Open daily,11am - 4pm (last entry 3pm). Normal admission costs apply, no booking required.

A view of a ceiling-height cabinet with a glass front which contains colourful tiles by William De Morgan. The tiles show images of bird, plants and architecture.
A huge variety of tiles by William De Morgan | © National Trust/Libby Taylor
Close view of the fireplace in the Acanthus Room at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton. The quotation is from "In Memoriam" By Tennyson.

Wightwick's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Wightwick Manor on the National Trust Collections website.

Our partners

De Morgan Foundation

The De Morgan Foundation’s collection of artwork and associated materials was formed on the death of Mrs Stirling at her bequest. The organisation was formally registered as Charity No. 310004 in 1970.

Visit website 

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