September 17, 2023
3 minute read

A Marriage of Arts & Crafts: Evelyn and William De Morgan

Evelyn De Morgan (British, 1855–1919), Earthbound, 1897. Oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 46 1/2 in. De Morgan Collection. © Trustees of the De Morgan Foundation.

The Crocker Art Museum is pleased to announce A Marriage of Arts & Crafts: Evelyn and William De Morgan on view from September 17, 2023 through January 7, 2024. This exhibition celebrates the life and work of these exceptional artists to reclaim their rightful place at the center of the Victorian art world. Featuring over 70 ceramics, paintings and drawings of unique beauty, this exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover the De Morgans. 

Evelyn was an independent woman from the landed gentry who defied the stereotypes of her class and gender to become a celebrated artist, though her reputation has undoubtedly been overshadowed by her male peers. William was the most innovative ceramics designer of the Victorian age, who collaborated with William Morris to create beautiful interiors for mostly wealthy clients. De Morgan’s career dimmed in an artistic hierarchy that favors painting. In A Marriage of Arts & Crafts, the work of the artist couple shines.  

“This exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in Victorian art and design.” notes Rachel Gotlieb, PhD, the Crocker Art Museum’s Ruth Rippon Curator of Ceramics. “The De Morgans were a visionary couple enjoying a modern marriage and were committed to reforming Victorian society through their respective ceramics and painting practices engaging in the intersecting movements of their day, Pre-Raphaelite, Arts and Crafts, and Aestheticism.” 

In 1873, Evelyn was admitted to the newly established Slade School of Art at the University of London, affording her a revolutionary art education that which would shape her future. The Slade had been established a few years prior with two clear objectives: to admit women on the same terms as men, and to instruct its pupils primarily in the study of the life model. It was around this time that Evelyn began using her middle name, rather than her Christian first name, Mary. Under a more gender-neutral name, Evelyn could be sure her work would be judged on merit. Her painting is rooted in the Aesthetic Movement which valued form over function and promoted the mantra ‘Art for Art’s Sake.’ Evelyn exhibited in the most important avant garde exhibitions of the period.  

William enrolled at Cary’s Art Academy in Bloomsbury, London, to learn to draw from casts of antique sculptures and he ultimately passed the entrance examination of the Royal Academy Schools, in 1859. After four years of study and showing no real skill as a painter, William De Morgan met William Morris and was so enchanted by the designer and socialist that he decided to leave the Academy and become a designer himself. The first ten years of William’s professional career in the decorative arts were dedicated to the design and manufacture of stained glass. William eventually pivoted to recreating the lost art of producing lusterware and reached his peak with the style in the 1890s when he was able to produce it in three different colors; a technique unmatched by ceramists today. 

By the time William and Evelyn met in 1883, they were both well-established artists. The couple married on March 5, 1887, each bringing their own skill, talent, and professional networks to this most unusual and equal Victorian marriage. William was incredibly supportive of his wife’s career and independence and would later go on to publicly support the Women’s Suffrage Movement, using his public platform to speak about inequality. The De Morgans both continued to make art until the end of their lives and left a legacy of artworks that are beautiful on the surface and also promote the ideals of equality and inclusion of the artists who made them.  

A Marriage of Arts & Crafts features works from the De Morgan Collection, courtesy of the De Morgan Foundation. A publication of essays accompanies the exhibition and will be available in the Museum Store. Prior to the presentation at the Crocker, the exhibition was displayed at the Delaware Art Museum (October 22, 2022 through February 19, 2023).