Gallery visit – the De Morgans at the Laing

By 22nd February 2021Blog

Last September in that brief, enchanted interval between lockdowns I saw William and Evelyn De Morgan at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Evelyn Pickering De Morgan was a professional artist, and a jolly good one at that. (My ignorance is showing here; not only didn’t realise they were married, I thought they were brothers. Perhaps I was subconsciously channeling Evelyn Waugh?).

The Gilded Cage by Evelyn De Morgan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gilded Cage (1919) by Evelyn De Morgan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Evelyn’s paintings are filled with symbolism and metaphors reflecting her strong spiritualist beliefs. She was passionate about the rights of women and horrified by war. She signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage of 1889. Her early work is evocative of the Pre-Raphaelites; understandable given the couple’s long friendship and affinity with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

Sketchbook page from gallery visit

My sketchbook page from gallery visit

In contrast to Evelyn’s highly-charged allegories, William’s beautifully executed tiles seem – at first glance – to be simply decorative and sometimes charmingly whimsical. In trying to draw some of the tiles I soon realised the designs rely on precise mathematical/geometric placement to achieve that graceful symmetry.

repeat pattern trial in Adobe Illustrator

A repeating pattern trial in Adobe Illustrator

Seeing the tiles revived my interest in repeating forms and tile design in general. This inspired me to do more sketching and explore tile designs. I made some quick sketches and then used Adobe Illustrator to convert them into repeating pattersn. I can’t help but think that William De Morgan would have appreciated how much easier that is than drawing them out by hand.

Some of my repeat pattern work made an appearance in a Uni assignment (in the Secular Church).

sketch - repeat design

My doodle of a repeat design

More about the Laing exhibition here: