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William De Morgan

W

illiam Frend De Morgan (1839-1917) was the most important and innovative potter of the 19th century. His distinctive style and glorious lustres are instantly recognisable.

He met William Morris in 1863 when he was 24 and they remained lifelong friends; both became central figures in the Arts & Crafts Movement, sharing a love of all things medieval, an eagerness to learn and a sense of humour.

It was at the suggestion of Morris that De Morgan gave up his training in fine art and started designing stained glass. Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co - known as the The Firm - had been established for two years and was very successful. The partners boasted a wealth of talent - Philip Webb, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and, of course, Morris.

De Morgan designed stained glass, ceramic tiles and painted furniture for The Firm between 1863-1872. Here he used his knowledge of chemistry and his gift as an inventor to work on different lustres and glazes. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for experimentation led to a fire which destroyed the roof, about which "the landlord did not seem at all amiable".

Whereas some of De Morgan’s flowery designs are reminiscent of Morris, his animals are distinctly his own. They are partly drawn from his detailed knowledge of medieval illustrated manuscripts and partly from his vivid imagination.

He and Burne-Jones used to amuse themselves by drawing fantastic imaginary creatures and it is thought that Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) commissioned him to design a set of tiles to illustrate his famous poem The Hunting of the Snark. It is in such designs that we are afforded a taste of his very special humour.

 
 
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