A major exponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William de Morgan’s creative output began whilst working for William Morris in his firm’s glass department. This close friendship exposed De Morgan to Morris’ somewhat provincial approach to design, returning to traditional methods of production in favour of a well-designed and hand-crafted product. In the late 1860s, the desire for home improvement was growing and large firms like Minton’s and Maw & Co. were supplying an array of ‘art tiles’ to meet demand.As Morris & Co. opted to concentrate their efforts on textiles, furniture and interior decorative schemes, De Morgan seized the opportunity to transition into ceramic design, specialising in an area which would come to define his career.
Focussing on ceramic tile production, De Morgan initially transferred his patterns onto commercial blank, however he quickly became disillusioned with the quality of industrial dust-pressed earthenware. Through Morris’ ideology, he experimented with traditional methods of clay-making and, by the late 1870s, had established a large pottery in Merton Abbey, neighbouring Morris’ textile workshops, where he was able to put into practice his notions of artistic reform. Taking influence from medieval manuscripts and Romanesque stone carvings, De Morgan’s designs are dominated by meandering foliage and fantastical beasts as he sought to distinguish himself from Morris’ decorative floral patterns.
Towards the end of his career, De Morgan became a partner with the architect Halsey Ricardo and the pair received several significant commissions, including Debenham House in London in 1905. Sharing similar views to De Morgan, Ricardo sought to bring life to surfaces through vibrant use of colour and pattern. By this time, De Morgan had mastered the more technical aspects of his craft: creating complex triple lustre glazes coupled with intense underglaze decorations which did not alter during the firing process. The interiors of Debenham House are lined with luminous lustrewares; imbued with a Middle Eastern influence now synonymous with his work. Rhythmical scrollwork backgrounds are illuminated by beautiful lustreware glazes in ruby-red and deep blues and greens. Attracted by the mesmerising iridescence of Hispano-Moresque and Persian art, De Morgan’s lustreware ceramics signal a stark departure from the typically dark Victorian interiors.
Lyon & Turnbull is pleased to offer a fine example of the richly decorated lustreware of William de Morganin our forthcoming Decorative Arts: Design since 1860 auction this spring.