Artist: De Morgan, Evelyn
Object Number: P_EDM_0029
Date: 1892
Category: Oil on canvas, Paintings, and Wightwick Manor
Material: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Canvas: H 920 x W 1685 mm Framed: H 1170 x W 1940 x D 108 mm
Inscriptions: Signature, 1892: ‘EDeM 1892’

In the Garden of Opportunity, we see on the right symbols of learning and wisdom. The bench is decorated with an owl, the wise bird and with the cornucopia of the wealth of the earth. A book lies discarded on the bench. Behind is a church, the medieval seat of learning. The mill and water wheel behind the bench represent all the riches of the earth, harvested for the benefit of humanity. In front of the bench is Wisdom herself, in an attitude of despair, at her feet the discarded riches that she can bring to those who follow her.

The central figures are two medieval students, dressed in colourful robes, who have turned their backs on wisdom and learning, and are moving towards Folly, represented by the female figure on the left. Against a desolate background, she tempts them towards a castle, symbol of transient wealth. She holds out to them a silver ball. On one side of this ball (the side they cannot see) is a skull. In her other hand is a branch of henbane – a narcotic and poisonous plant. On the stairway to the Palace of Folly, a little devil peeps out from the bannister to see which they will choose. The two students are in the Garden of Opportunity – will they be tempted by the easy riches offered by Folly, and choose the path of worldliness, which leads only to death and the devil, or will they turn back to the path of goodness, wisdom and learning, and their talents for the good of all?

Mrs Stirling wrote about the devil “the jest about this was always that he was pointed out as a portrait of William De Morgan by the artist (as he has the De Morgan piehead!).