‘Air-Con, Gloves and Cabbage Leaves: A Look Behind the Paintings’

‘Air-Con, Gloves and Cabbage Leaves: A Look Behind the Paintings’

Volunteer, Megan Stuart, takes a trip to the De Morgan archives to see some more of Evelyn’s drawings

Sitting in a cold, concrete room with no windows or natural light source for three hours wouldn’t sound like the perfect way to spend a midsummer’s afternoon. However, sitting in a cold, concrete, windowless room whilst rifling through an enormous collection of Evelyn De Morgan’s stunning, delicate drawings undeniably was my perfect afternoon.

A few days ago, I ventured to the De Morgan art store - a massive location dealing with the storage, transport and general logistics of keeping art objects. It’s tucked away, off of the main high street, but there I met up with Sarah Hardy, Curator and Manager of the De Morgan Foundation, who led me into the De Morgan archives to see some incredible artwork first hand.

Sarah told me the general basics of handling art objects, the big dos and don’ts that I’d never even really considered! She said to wear latex or cotton gloves whilst handling the art to make sure no nail varnish or anything can transfer, to remove or cover any rings or bracelets in case they get caught, and to ensure that everything is in acid-free tissue paper in order to protect it.

 

 

Looking at Evelyn De Morgan’s drawings was a surreal experience. Getting so close to art works and actually handling them rather than gazing at them, out of reach, let me really look properly. I could move them around and look at different ones next to each other. Doing this showed me how Evelyn developed her paintings, from scribbled plans to sustained tonal drawings and individual studies. The pictures below show the preparatory pieces that I came across for The Kingdom of Heaven Suffereth Violence and the Violent Take It By Force.

The amount of tonal studies of drapery I saw within the collection really showed how much of a perfectionist Evelyn was. Sarah suggested that Evelyn may have initially struggled with drapery and her constant practice may be her precise attitude towards her work showing through. As I went through these intricate drapery drawings the curling lines and cabbage-leaf textures really appealed to me – I would happily have bought a print of any of them!

Throughout the afternoon Sarah also showed me how some of the drawings varied and how it was possible to determine that some were instead by William De Morgan, or even Spencer Stanhope – Evelyn’s uncle. We compared different works and talked about how some of the paintings could even be collaborations. Sarah’s still working on finalising these theories, but the proof definitely appears to be there.

Going to the archives was such an informative, special experience. I feel like I’ve had a little insight into the mind of Evelyn De Morgan and the stories of her artistic life, as well as a pretty cool Wednesday.