Look Beneath the Lustre - The De Morgan Gallery at Wightwick
Discover our Malthouse gallery and its exhibition in partnership with the De Morgan Foundation.
In the purpose built Malthouse Gallery, Wightwick Manor proudly displays richly decorated ceramics by William De Morgan with visionary symbolic paintings by his wife, Evelyn, in a superb display showcasing the artistic achievements of this extraordinary creative couple.
Look Beneath The Lustre explores the processes behind Evelyn and William De Morgan’s illustrious artworks.
Curated by National Trust Assistant Curator of National Public Programmes, Hannah Squire, and De Morgan Foundation Curator-Manager, Sarah Hardy, the selected works bridge the gap between the house and gallery. The objects on show, such Evelyn De Morgan’s sketchbooks from Wightwick’s collection and photographs of Evelyn’s muse, Jane Hales, extend the discussions around social progression and artist’s models that begin in the house. This exhibition examines the De Morgan’s creation of fine and decorative arts for the Aesthetic Movement of the late nineteenth century and looks at how they inspired the interiors of the Manor.
We have on loan the beautiful vase in the portrait of William De Morgan and his preparatory sketch for the design on the vase. The painting of William De Morgan will be on display later this year, on loan from National Portrait Gallery. These exciting loans are on display alongside more preparatory sketches and drawings than ever before. Visitors are invited to ‘unpick’ the artwork and understand the artists’ processes and the influences behind their creations.
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.
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, twelve 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.
Find out more about William De Morgan.
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.
Find out more about Evelyn De Morgan
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.