Friday, 15 May 2015

Evelyn De Morgan: Artist Of Peace

Romantic artworks that reflect the loss and tragedy of war and celebrate the heroism of the Red Cross

Written by Mike Glover
Mike-Glover-colour-176Evelyn De Morgan was acknowledged by the Victorian symbolist GF Watts as the greatest lady painter of her, or perhaps any, era. She grew to prominence during the Arts and Crafts Movement, partly due to her marriage to the celebrated ceramicist William De Morgan.

The Boer War ignited her to paint the suffering of those sent into battle and their loved ones left at home. Some of these works can be seen at Evelyn De Morgan: Artist Of Peace at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house, at Bowness-on-Windermere. It was designed by MH Baillie Scott for the family of Manchester brewers, the Holts, whose eldest son was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. The influence of the First World War on De Morgan’s beautiful symbolic and romantic artworks is strong in this exhibition. It shows fully her influences, from Renaissance classicism, through Pre-Raphaelite to hints of abstract modernism.

Thirty works are spread through the rooms upstairs at Blackwell, 15 paintings and 15 pastel studies De Morgan drew of paintings that have subsequently been lost in a fire. These studies have been framed especially for the show and demonstrate what a meticulous and skilful artist De Morgan was.

Almost all the works have been lent by the De Morgan Foundation, including In Memoriam, a tranquil study of a woman, with loss and tragedy in her pose and hope reflected in sunlight behind.

The Red Cross uses biblical imagery of angels to show hope, but tucked away in the corner are the crosses of the battlefields of Belgium. SOS , painted in 1914, is a real cry from the heart, with the central figure passionately appealing to the heavens, while surrounded by dragons and demons. De Morgan held an exhibition in 1916 to raise money for the Red Cross, donating all proceeds from her painting sales.

On show here are also the silver medal she received for her drawing skills as one of the first women to attend the Slade School Of Art, along with her ration card and the palette knife she was given by GF Watts.

Claire Longworth, curator of the De Morgan Foundation, gave a talk recently, Evelyn De Morgan: Feminist Icon, Pre-Raphaelite Sister Or Symbolist? Not surprisingly, her answer was all three.

Until 13 September at Blackwell, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria: 015394-46139, www.blackwell.org.uk


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