About the Exhibition

Living through a global pandemic changed the world forever in many ways. One positive outcome was that we all united with a sense of hope for better days ahead.

Evelyn De Morgan was born during the Crimean War (1853-56), at a time when life in Victorian Britain was both full of the spirit of progress but dogged by short-lived military conflicts. She also lived through the Boer Wars and First World War.

The outbreak of the First World War, which brought daily reports from the frontline and the huge death toll, deeply affected De Morgan. Possessing a strong belief that art should have a moral purpose, De Morgan fashioned an artistic response to war using a deliberate synthesis of academic style, symbol and allegory to convey pacifist meanings and values. Her artwork became cathartic, allowing her a platform to present her profound fears and her hope that better days would come. These paintings resonate deeply with our own experience of living through a global crisis.

Evelyn hoped her art would act as pacifist propaganda, but also used it to help practically towards the war effort, by holding an exhibition at her studio in London in 1916 to raise funds for the Red Cross.

Lux in Tenebris (1895) is typical of Evelyn’s depiction of peace as an ethereal female figure in loose, classical drapery. She never depicted the horrors of fighting directly, rather used her pictures as a metaphor of hope and salvation in a world of conflict.

Preparatory study for Our Lady of Peace (1902). The innocence of the putti gazing skyward at Our Lady of Peace in the final painting, represents the innocence of those called up to fight. Evelyn captured the naivety and purity exactly in her delicate sketches of child models which she made in preparation for her final canvas.

Caption: The Red Cross (1914). In a billowing, blood-red cloak, Christ floats over a field of the slain, supported by a band of angels, to take away the sins of killers and to watch over the souls of the departed as they ascend to heaven.

The result of this exhibition was a body of work which not only acts as a powerful expression of the effects of conflict upon De Morgan and fellow Britons, but can also be understood as a universal statement about the anxiety, grief and ultimately hope that accompany any war.

The prismatic pictures filled De Morgan’s 1916 exhibition with rainbows, much like our homes, shops, and hospitals were emblazoned with this universal symbol of hope during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Our Lady of Peace (1907). The anguish and hope of the nation are embodied in the young soldier kneeling in prayer to the classically draped figure of peace. It is unclear whether he is on his way to battle, begging for his safe return and the return to peace, or whether the painting is a premonition of him giving thanks once the war is over.

Visit the Exhibition

“Evelyn De Morgan: Pre-Raphaelite Artist of Hope” will be on display at Towneley Hall, Burnley, from February to September 2021. Alongside information about Evelyn De Morgan and her artworks prepared by curators and art historians will be the stories of local people who have clung to hope through the pandemic. De Morgan has teamed up with the following organisations to develop this exhibition, which we hope will be something for you to look forward to this year.

  • Lancashire County Council and a group of Syrian refugees
  • Child Action North West, a charity supporting young carers
  • Nurses from Royal Blackburn Hospital
  • Burnley High School

If you can’t visit in person, this page will become an online exhibition with video, audio, and photographic content from De Morgan and its partners enabling you to visit online.

We look forward to welcoming you.

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