Moonbeams Dipping into the Sea (1900 – 1919) by Evelyn De Morgan, De Morgan Collection

Linking the moon to the earth in the crepuscular light, are three robust yet ethereal nude women, in Evelyn De Morgan’s surreal painting Moonbeams (dipping into the Sea). They represent the earth’s gravity, holding the moon in orbit. Personifying this powerful yet unseen force as female allowed De Morgan to present women as strong and instrumental in the natural order, far from how they were seen in society at the time, not being given the vote until 1918.

Now that the De Morgan Collection is available to view on Art UK, it is clear to see that this narrative was important to this feminist as she tackled the subject more than once. In addition to the version in the De Morgan Collection, a second version of the picture belongs to the National Trust at Knightshayes Court in Devon.

Moonbeams Dipping into the Sea (1900 – 1919) by Evelyn De Morgan, National Trust

The National Trust version is smaller, and less finished. The colours are more vivid, bolder and with a deep red undertone, rather than the blue-grey moonlight tones which illuminate the De Morgan Collection version.

In all likelihood, the National Trust version of this painting is a preparatory sketch in oil for the larger canvas. Having both examples on Art UK informs us of this aspect of De Morgan’s picture making, and suggests that other, smaller prismatic canvases in the De Morgan Collection are probably sketches for unrealised, or untraced, paintings.

Twilight by Evelyn De Morgan

Twilight in the De Morgan Collection for example has more features in common with the National Trust’s Moonbeams, thus allowing us to consider this as a sketch rather than a finished work. If De Morgan did create a larger, more finished version of this sketch, it is untraced.

Adding the De Morgan collection to Art UK has allowed for this important comparison of the paintings, just one of the reasons that De Morgan is so committed to using digital to share the Collection as widely as possible.