The De Morgan Centre

William de Morgan

William de Morgan [Full image 20.9kb]

The new De Morgan Centre which opened in April 2002 at West Hill Library brings together the extensive collection of the works of William de Morgan and his wife Evelyn.

William de Morgan 1839-1917 is regarded as the most important ceramic artist of the Arts and Crafts Movement. He rediscovered the lost art of lustre decoration and the brilliant colours of Islamic pottery. The De Morgan family were of French Huguenot descent forced to flee from religious persecution. William was born into an intellectual family and showed an early interest in art. He became a pupil at the Royal Academy School. He met William Morris in 1863 and his friend Burne-Jones at Red Lion Square where they had a studio/workshop. De Morgan was much influenced by Morris and soon decided to design tiles; the first designs were very closely related to Morris' flower tiles. He later moved to Chelsea where he designed and made his own tiles.

William Morris

William Morris [Full image 14.6kb]

In 1887 he married Evelyn Pickering 1855-1919 who had always wanted to become an artist. She was helped in her ambitions by her artist uncle Roddam Spencer Stanhope and in 1873 she entered the Slade School of Art, as one of the first women students. She proved an excellent student and was invited to exhibit her work at the Grosvenor Gallery alongside well-known names like Burne-Jones and George Watts. Her style was much influenced by Botticelli.

After marriage, William and Evelyn de Morgan continued to practise their own work. They both became interested in and involved with many of the social issues of the day, spiritualism, the women's suffrage movement and pacifism being the foremost.

After Evelyn's death in 1919 Evelyn's younger sister Mrs Wilhelmina Stirling devoted the last forty years of her life to collecting together as many as possible of Evelyn's paintings and William's ceramics in her home Old Battersea House. When Mrs Stirling died in 1965 she left instructions in her will for a De Morgan Memorial to be set up.

The De Morgan Centre

The De Morgan Centre [Full image 16.4kb]

In 1968 the De Morgan Foundation, a registered Charity, was set up to maintain the collection. Old Battersea House reverted to Wandsworth Borough Council and the collection was put into store. Some parts of the collections were loaned out to Cardiff Castle, Cragside and Knightshayes ( National Trust properties) . Some returned to Old Battersea House when the new leaseholder, the American Malcolm Forbes, restored the house for his own use, and it was occasionally opened to the public. Eventually the Forbes family requested that the collection be re-housed and Wandsworth Council were able to offer a suitable site at West Hill Library. The Reference Library here was surplus to requirements, and proved an admirable setting for the collection of paintings and ceramics.

The Exhibition is the work of the Project Manager Kate Catleigh whose vision and commitment had got this project off the ground together with the designer Mike Davies of Merlin-Expo. As well as the standing Exhibition she hopes to hold temporary exhibitions, seminars and discussion groups together with an Education Programme.

Do come and join us on June 29t!J to see this wonderful Exhibition. If you cannot join us the De Morgan Centre is at: West Hill Library West Hill SW18 Admission free Nearest Tube East Putney and Bus 37,337,170 Ten minutes' walk from the Arndale Centre Opening hours: Monday-Wednesday 12-6, Friday and Saturday 10-5. Closed Thursdays and Sundays.

Sheila Harris

[see Issue 34 or Issue 37 for articles about De Morgan and his Wandle connections]

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