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, 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 (1855-1919), and the creations of her husband, the preeminent ceramic designer, William De Morgan (1839-1917). Showcasing the artistic achievements of this extraordinarily 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.
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.
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.
Making art is never a solitary pursuit. 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 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.
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.