Very few photographs of Evelyn De Morgan are known to exist, and so the discovery of this one just today was incredibly exciting.
The photograph shows Evelyn’s face close up, almost in profile. The light falls on the side of her face closest to the camera, which forces the far side into dark shadow. Due to this intimate composition and dramatic light, Evelyn’s features, her long, thin nose and deep-set eyes, are more apparent than in other photographs of her.
Glued into a bound scrapbook above a handwritten caption “Evelyn Pickering” the image can be dated to before 1887 when she married William De Morgan and took his name. Her portrait is pasted amongst images of other family members, directly next to a picture captioned “Jock” who is a baby of no more than 1 year. Jock is Jock Mure, the son of Evelyn’s niece by marriage, Marjorie. He was born in 1874 which makes this image of him date from approximately 1875. Evelyn was 32 years old when she married William and appears to be much younger than this in the photograph, so it would fit that this picture of her was taken and pasted into the book at the same time as the portrait of Jock, making her about 20 in the portrait.
By the time she was 20, Evelyn De Morgan had been a pupil of the Slade School of Art for two years and had won a full scholarship with a £50 per year stipend as a result of the talent she demonstrated. She was able to take anatomy lessons to complement her life drawing and ensure her aptitude for drawing the human form.
She was also regularly visiting her uncle, the painter Roddam Spencer Stanhope, at his home in Florence. Based on other pictures in the album, a likely candidate for its creator is Lilla Spencer Stanhope, Roddam’s wife and it is also likely that this photograph was taken in Italy, a country which Evelyn loved and which taught her so much about art.
Evelyn is wearing a ruffled collar with a lace a trim, a style which was popular in the 1870s and 1880s. It is interesting to note that just as the artist doesn’t appear in many photographs or portraits, she did not paint many portraits. Of her known portraits however, Margaret Rawlins also appears to be wearing a similar style of dress to the one Evelyn wears in this photograph. The smock-style was often worn by those who wished to oppose the uncomfortable fashion of corsets and crinolines. As a suffragist, Evelyn De Morgan certainly would have used her fashion to express her feminist views.
The composition of the photograph is quite unusual for portraits of the era, which were often posed and full or quarter length. This photograph is more intimate, and has been taken close up. It suggests a closeness and a comfortable relationship between sitter and photographer. As Evelyn De Morgan looks away, rather than directly into, the camera, there is a softness and relaxed mood to the image, rather than any intensity which her looking into the camera would cause.
Ultimately, this photograph of Evelyn De Morgan is just another snap of her, but as one of only a handful ever seen, it’s importance can not really be overstated.