Sublime Symmetry: The Mathematics Behind William De Morgan’s Ceramic Designs

           

William De Morgan was undoubtedly the most intriguing and inventive ceramic designer of the late Victorian period. His conjuring of fantastical beasts to wrap themselves around the contours of ceramic hollowware and his manipulation of fanciful flora and fauna to meander across tile panels fascinated his contemporaries and still captivates today.

Over his long career William De Morgan revolutionised the field of ceramic design with his reinvention of lusterware, dedication to studying and perfecting Middle Eastern designs, invention and use of his own kilns and his wonderful patterns. Despite this, De Morgan was most well known in his own time as an author of popular fiction, and is best known more recently as a potter colleague of Morris’s with a wild imagination and a terrible business sense. The idea that De Morgan possessed great mathematical aptitude is not a new one. Mrs Russell Barrington wrote of De Morgan, as early as the 1920s that ‘he was an accomplished engineer and mathematician, practical to a degree’, this idea was also revisited by Gaunt and Clayton-Stamm, in their 1971 publication on De Morgan. They comment that ‘apart from De Morgan’s artistic and literary genius he also possessed considerable mathematical skill’.

Sublime Symmetry builds on these earlier observations to readdress – through a rigorous examination of the mathematical devices used in his designs – De Morgan as a natural mathematician and talented draughtsman. The exhibition showcases magnificent ceramics from the De Morgan Collection and designs on paper on loan from the V&A. The pieces have all been chosen to demonstrate the mathematical concepts which are the basis for De Morgan's beautiful and colourful ceramic designs.

Children and whole families will be able to explore the patterns, shapes and symmetry in De Morgan’s elaborately decorated tiles and pots. Making learning maths fun, there will be interactive games and a family trail that can be enjoyed by budding mathematicians young and old. The exhibition is supported by an exciting schools programme and teacher information pack aimed at Key Stage 2.

Entry to the family friendly exhibition is either free or included within the standard admission price at each venue.

 

Tour venues

06 March to 05 June 2016 at Towneley Hall, Burnley

11 June to 04 September 2016 at Cannon Hall, Barnsley

10 September to 04 December 2016 at Torre Abbey, Torbay

10 December 2016 to 05 March 2017 at the New Walk Gallery, Leicester

 

The De Morgan Foundation is grateful to the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, the London Mathematical Society and The Art Fund: Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant,who have made the touring exhibition possible with their generous support.