The Marillier Letters



As beautiful as the paintings and ceramics in our gallery are, there are just as many fascinating objects and documents in our archive. It’s a real treat to come across a note or letter that reveals some of the character of the person behind the art.

We have been lucky enough to acquire a fascinating lot at a recent Bonhams sale: a bundle of letters to Marillier, Managing Director of Morris & Co. and owner of Kelmscott House, written by none other than William De Morgan.

The letters are dated from 1907 to 1914, and are sent from either William’s Chelsea home, or Florence, Italy, where he holidayed in the winter. These notes to Marillier are ordinary in many ways – William complaining about a stubborn bout of flu, or discussing the weather – but they are also fascinating for their charming insight into his personality and humour.

Discussing his ceramic work, William reveals more than a modicum of modesty, and is at times self-critical:

“…an exploration of these tile boxes would yield no gold mines – mere pewter at best!”


The letters uncover a poignant nostalgia that William held for his life in the potter’s studio, commenting that “the tiles and pots have vanished like a dream… and a very insolvent dream!”

“I can’t tell you how much I miss never having a kiln to open next day.”


William makes frequent references to his later years as a novelist, an occupation which seems to bring him a fair amount of stress! He makes mention of his first novel Joseph Vance, which he calls ‘Joe Vance’:

“It seems quite like someone else’s book now to me, and I can hardly believe I wrote it!”


For me, these insights into the artist’s personality make his work all the more enjoyable and interesting. To gaze upon William’s intricate tile designs, and then imagine him jotting a grumbling note about the British summer, helps bring the gallery to life!

If you are interested in these letters or visiting our archive, get in touch at

Emma Coleman, Museum Officer