Evelyn De Morgan

Evelyn De Morgan

1855 - 1919

Evelyn De Morgan (1855 – 1919) was born to upper-class parents in London in the middle of the 19th century. She benefitted from a private tutor and was well read in the arts, classics and sciences, and able to speak five languages.

By the age of 17, De Morgan had decided not to follow expectations of her gender or class, but instead was determined to become a professional artist.

"Art is eternal, but life is short. I have not a moment to lose" Evelyn De Morgan, aged 17

Her father paid for no fewer than three tutors to privately instruct her in her drawing. She joined the National Art Training School in 1873 and spent six months there before enrolling at the Slade School of Art in January 1874. This was a revolutionary art school which accepted women on the same terms as men. Here, she was able to study from life and excelled at painting and drawing, winning a full scholarship. She took anatomy classes which enabled her to accurately capture the human form.

De Morgan had a studio in Chelsea where she worked alongside sculptors and took an interest in materials. She bought art supplies from Roberson’s and Windsor and Newton and had special canvases made to her own specification. The rich colour and stability of her paintings you can still see today is testament to her technical ability as an artist.

De Morgan’s process was to sketch visions for large canvases years before she painted them. She would then work up pastel portraits for her figures and make large-scale colour compositions. This time-consuming and rigorous method ensured the beauty of her finished paintings, of which she made up to three per year from the age of 20 to her death at 64.

Stylistically, her early work followed the Aesthetic Movement and she created paintings which are beautiful above all else. These were popular at the avant-garde Grosvenor Gallery in London where she was only one of a few women invited to exhibit from the age of just 20. By the turn of the century, her art became more Pre-Raphaelite in style. She used bright colours and rich textures to paint medieval and mythological subjects.

Many of her pictures were inspired by Italian Renaissance painters, particularly Sandro Botticelli (1445 - 1510). She travelled to Italy regularly and studied from the pictures in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in order to capture their style. Italian landscapes and medieval towns ignited her artistic interest equally, and her sketchbooks are filled with drawings and watercolours of the beautiful Italian countryside.

In 1887 Evelyn married the potter William De Morgan. The De Morgans were interested in Spiritualism, probably influenced by William's mother Sophia De Morgan who was a well-known medium. Unusually, Evelyn was the main breadwinner in the marriage until William became a successful author at the age of 65. His success allowed De Morgan to finally paint without concern for selling paintings for profit, allowing her to express her Spiritualist beliefs and pursue painting the salvation of the human soul upon the death of the body. Her later paintings feature allegorical bodies in swirling rainbow mists. They are ethereal and beautiful, their otherworldliness allows us to access her own personal vision of the journey of the human soul to the afterlife.

She outlived her husband by just two years and the couple are buried together at Brookwood Cemetery in Woking, under a headstone of Evelyn’s design where an angel welcomes the spirit of the departed to heaven.