The mystery of The Livadia

It has long been common knowledge that De Morgan was employed by P&O’s ships architect T.E.Colcutt to design schemes and provide tile decorations for the public rooms and circulation areas of twelve P&O liners. Initially supplying stock designs such as the Rose and Trellis, Double Carnation and BBB tiles which were installed in the smoking room of the s.s.Britannia, De Morgan soon progressed to designing elaborate schemes of arcades of trees, or imagined vistas from the ship’s voyage. More information can be found out about these commissions on our website.

However, it is not such common knowledge that De Morgan also designed schemes for several other ships and yachts including Lord Ashburton’s yacht and a ship called the s.s.Iniscarra  (see  below)  designed in 1903 for the City of Cork Steam Packet Co Ltd. Designs for these can be found in the V&A’s Archives.

A mystery has surrounded De Morgan's connection with one particular vessel for a number of years. The Royal Steam Yacht Livadia - designed for Czar Alexander II of Russia  was launched in 1880 from John Elder and Co’s Shipyard in Glasgow. The yacht was notorious because of her round shape and luxury – over half a million pounds was spent on the magnificent fittings and furnishings alone, which included a fountain as well as sumptuous carpets, curtains and ornate mouldings. She was met with wild acclaim from the press and was described by The Times as 'a sea palace erected on the back of a huge steel turbot'.

William De Morgan’s biographer (who was also his sister-in-law Mrs Stirling) claims that three large colourful tile panels (shown below when in situ at Old Battersea House) which she owned were also made for the ship. However there is no evidence to support the connection between the panels and the yacht and the tiles were all tragically destroyed in a fire in 1991.

Images below taken in situ at Old Battersea House prior to Mrs Stirling's death in 1965.

   

 

 

However, a floral design from the V&A archive (right (c) Richard Dennis Publ.)  is annotated with the word ‘Livadia’ and so it seems that De Morgan’s tiles were indeed intended for the yacht after all.

An Article in The Graphic from 1880 describes the interiors of the ship which were designed and decorated by “Mr. William Leiper, of Bath Street, Glasgow”. The only mention of tiles comes in the description of the Crimean Tartar Saloon which “has a richly emblazoned ceiling with a frieze of old Damascus tiling, enamelled to represent the Persian peacock pattern, and divided by bands of onyx so as to form panels”. 

Whilst the article insists the tiles are ancient ones from Damascus the corrolation between the V&A design and the description of a “persian peacock pattern” is too close to ignore. However disappointingly the artist’s illustration accompanying the article (below) shows a different design and so the hunt for more information continued.

 

 

 

 

 

Excitingly an actual photograph of the yacht’s Crimean Tartar Saloon has recently come to light on a Russian Photographic Archive and it clearly shows tiles on the walls which are identical to the artichoke panels in the De Morgan Foundation’s collection (right). 
 

These artichoke tiles are inspired by ancient Iznik Damascan ware and so it seems that after many years the mystery has been solved and De Morgan did indeed provide tiles for the Livadia.

 

 

 

 

 

Claire Longworth, Curator