UPDATE April 2019 Flora (see below) had been moved to San Francisco as part of the re-distribution of the De Morgan works. She is now back in this country but in storage for a while. Sarah Hardy, a representative from the William de Morgan Foundation who delivered the April lecture, told us that this is to preserve the painting after much travelling. However it has been replaced by a lovely painting called the Hour Glass.
The new gallery in the Old Malthouse, which was once a schoolroom and then a squash court is now open and is certainly worth a visit. WNTA made a donation of £10,000 which was part of a bequest from the estate of Miss Margaret Stanley, who was a member of our association until her death. Two members of our Committee attended the opening on 6th May, 2017.
The gallery, which has easy access, displays ceramics by William De Morgan and paintings by his wife, Evelyn.
The first impression on entering, is the vibrancy of Evelyn’s paintings which are beautifully presented.
The large painting of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, is magnificent. The bright, fresh-looking colours were achieved by painting over a layer of gold. (At present, this painting has been “on tour” to San Francisco and is now in storage, but has been replaced by an equally impressive painting called the Hour Glass.)
William De Morgan’s tiles are equally well displayed in modern brightly lit cases. Many of his tiles show ‘fantastical’ birds and other animals. He experimented with innovative glazes and firing techniques. His tiles are often based on medieval designs or Persian patterns. Galleons and fish were also popular motifs. Some tiles were planned to create intricate patterns when several tiles were laid together.
William and Evelyn were married in 1887, the same year that Wightwick was built. Both were dedicated to creating beauty and promoting a better world. William created one of the defining styles of the art and craft movement and was a lifelong friend of William Morris.
Evelyn was influenced by the style of the pre-Raphaelites and was a follower of Edward Burne-Jones. She was a fiercely independent woman who, together with her husband, was a campaigner for women’s rights and suffrage. Some of her paintings reflect the role of women.
A quotation from a close family friend is displayed in the gallery: “It is indeed unusual to find two people, so gifted, so entirely in harmony in their art.”
As a couple they viewed each other as equals in marriage and were supportive of each other’s art.
A large ‘thank you’ poster at the entrance of the gallery acknowledges the help of Walsall and other local associations.
The exhibition, which is in partnership with the De Morgan Foundation, poses the question, “Did they make a better, more beautiful world?’ Go along to Wightwick and make up your own mind.
An interesting collection of William’s ceramics and tiles, including the panel below is, at present, on display in the Ceramics Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery