The Lost Paintings of Evelyn De Morgan

 
 The Lost Paintings of Evelyn De Morgan

 1st February 2013 - 20th April 2013

 In October 1991 a fire ravaged the Bourlet's art storage unit where much of the De Morgan Foundation's  art collection was stored. In one night more than 15 paintings by Evelyn De Morgan and many further  pieces of artwork were tragically destroyed - lost for future generations to admire.

 Colour photographs taken during the preceding years in the art store along with Evelyn De Morgan’s  beautiful drawings and studies for the paintings will be displayed for the first time in this exhibition,  giving an unprecedented opportunity to discover more about these extraordinary works of art.

 

 

Evelyn De Morgan

 

Evelyn De Morgan

Evelyn De Morgan, née Pickering (1855-1919) was a successful and prolific artist. In terms of stylistic devices her work is commonly associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. However, her artistic oeuvre encompasses a wide range of themes from Classicism and Mythology to Feminism and Suffrage, War and Spiritualism, which classifies her more accurately as a Symbolist.

De Morgan showed a flair for and a dedication to art from an early age. On her seventeenth birthday she wrote in her diary:

At work a little after 7… 17 today, that is to say seventeen years wasted in eating, dawdling and frittering time away… Art is eternal, but life is short… I will make up for it now, I have not a moment to lose.

In 1872 De Morgan spent some months studying at the South Kensington National Art Training School, but her aspirations were clearly at odds with the school’s traditional emphasis on the more feminine idea of artisanship and ‘accomplishment’. The next year she enrolled at the newly established Slade, becoming one of the first three women to do so.

In her formative years De Morgan travelled unaccompanied throughout France and to Italy where she visited with her uncle, the artist John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope. She was one of the first exhibitors at the Grosvenor Gallery, the avant-garde alternative to the Royal Academy. She was a fine draughtswoman and her drawings are often mistaken for those of her contemporaries, Frederic Leighton and Burne-Jones. De Morgan continued to paint and exhibit professionally for the rest of her life.

Along with her husband, William, she became involved in many of the leading issues of the day including prison reform, pacifism and spiritualism. They were also involved with the Suffragette movement, Evelyn as signatory for the "Declaration in Favour of Women's Suffrage" in 1889 and William serving as Vice President of the "Men's League for Women's Suffrage" in 1913.

Methods and Techniques

Evelyn’s drawings are enlightening not only for their skill and subject matter but also because they help us to understand her working process.

From loose compositional sketches, Evelyn swiftly progressed to detailed life studies for the figures in her paintings. Choosing to draw mainly on a grey wove paper in pencil and pastel Evelyn produced hundreds of figure studies. Her rigorously examined double studies of clothed and nude figures are particularly fascinating and underline the artist’s obsession with the human form and her desire for accuracy.

As well as these postural studies, Evelyn also produced exquisite studies of details, such as faces, which were typically either beautiful or characterful. Hands and feet were also studied at length to ensure realism. On occasion oil studies of key elements were also executed, although the Foundation has very few of these within its Collection.

It is apparent that once a composition was decided and the model posed and studied, Evelyn rarely deviated from her concept. Scrutiny of the extant oil paintings proves this point as there is very little reworking or over painting: a remarkable fact considering the style of painting and complexity of compositions.

As a final element to her working process, Evelyn executed detailed compositional studies. These pieces can be considered works of art in their own right and it is apparent that Evelyn often sold them as such. The works in gold on dark grey wove paper are of particular interest as very few artists used this technique, although it is known that Burne-Jones produced similar works.

 

The Lost Paintings of Evelyn De Morgan revisits five of Evelyn's paintings lost in the Bourlet's art store fire. A selection of drawings, sketches and compositional studies from the De Morgan Foundation's archive allow for an understanding of Evelyn's creative process and the rediscovery of these wonderful paintings.

Click through the links below to see the items on display and learn more about each painting.

Ignoto

Attainment

The Marriage of St Francis and the Holy Poverty

St Christina Giving Her Father's Jewels to the Poor

A Scrap of Paper