New exhibition opening at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Autumn 2021

A stunning collection of ceramic objects by the Victorian, pre-eminent ceramic designer, William De Morgan, is coming to the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight this autumn. 

Sublime Symmetry: De Morgan Ceramics, featuring around 70 objects on loan from The De Morgan Foundation, will be on display from 1 October 2021 until 9 January 2022.  

Famed for richly coloured, lustrous glazed tiles and pottery with birds and dragon decoration, De Morgan’s work is beautiful and iconic. But, behind the fantastical beasts which wrap themselves around De Morgan’s vases and the fanciful flora which meanders across his tiles, there is a rigorously planned mathematical structure. Sublime Symmetry uncovers the pattern, shape and symmetry in De Morgan’s designs. 

The exhibition will include an exploration of De Morgan’s career and the influence of William Morris on his early work, as well as how Islamic Art and De Morgan’s rediscovery of lustre, a thousand years after it was first used by potters in the Middle East, shaped his art.  

De Morgan’s unique experiments with glazes once caused a house fire in his rented London home when he used the fireplace as a makeshift kiln. De Morgan’s comprehension of mathematics and ability to manipulate his designs to adhere to precise geometric rules, as well as his understanding of elements and glaze, enabled him to make the sublime symmetrical patterns featured in the exhibition. 

In 1859 De Morgan was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools and had a classical art training. He met William Morris in 1863 and began designing stained glass for him before setting up his own business in 1872. From 1877 – 1881 he installed Sir Frederic Leighton’s Middle Eastern tiles in the Arab Hall at his home in London, which sparked his interest in these complex geometric designs and inspired his future work. Over the years his interests, abilities and experimentations with pottery developed and he created more figurative and ambitious pieces. 

Sublime Symmetry: De Morgan Ceramics is curated by Sarah Hardy, Curator of The De Morgan Foundation, who says:

Over his career, William De Morgan revolutionised the field of ceramic design with his reinvention of lustreware, dedication to studying and perfecting Middle Eastern designs, invention and use of his own kilns and his wonderful patterns. Sublime Symmetry: De Morgan Ceramics presents De Morgan as a natural mathematician and talented draughtsman. Presenting De Morgan’s design process in this intersectional way has drawn interest from mathematicians and art historians alike.

Nicola Scott, Exhibition Curator, National Museums Liverpool, said:

In art, symmetry is synonymous with beauty. De Morgan was a talented mathematician and he used the precision of that skill to create beautiful art. The true splendour of De Morgan’s tiles can be fully appreciated when the full pattern is displayed. Visitors are going to see a visually stunning display: beautiful to see, but also underpinned by this mathematical approach.  

Continuous circle patterns can be seen on the borders and rims of De Morgan’s elaborately decorated dishes and plates. He has borrowed this decoration from Islamic design, where such circular patterns represent the infinite nature of Allah, as they can be endlessly traced with no beginning and no end. The De Morgan pieces are exhibited alongside our internationally renowned Pre-Raphaelite collection, which includes world-famous paintings by Edwards Burne-Jones who, like De Morgan, worked with William Morris and was a member of the Arts and Crafts movement. The Lady Lever Art Gallery also has late Victorian masterpieces by Lord Leighton, whose Arab Hall so inspired De Morgan.

The exhibition is free to enter but visitors are encouraged to pay what they feel. 

The De Morgan Foundation owns an unparalleled collection of ceramics and oil paintings by William and Evelyn De Morgan, the husband and wife duo who were key proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th and early 20th Century. 

Educational resources from the exhibition, specifically designed to teach KS2 mathematics through ceramic design, are available here: 

Exhibition information:  

Large Wide Rimmed Bear and Hare Dish Tin glazed earthenware 48.9 cm 1888 – 1907, Fulham Period Decorated by Charles Passenger . ©De Morgan Foundation
Fan tile panel, tin glazed earthenware, 1872-1907, William De Morgan.©De Morgan Foundation
Bee plate (FRONT). Lustre glazed earthenware 35 x 35 cm 1872 – 1907. ©De Morgan Foundation
Bee plate (REVERSE). Lustre glazed earthenware 35 x 35 cm 1872 – 1907©De Morgan Foundation
Bull Vase Tin glazed earthenware 38.5 x 24.4 cm 1872 – 1907. ©De Morgan Foundation
Three Daisies and Snakes Plate Ruby lustre glazed earthenware 31cm 1872 – 1907. ©De Morgan Foundation
Two Handled Vase with Persian Floral Decoration Tin glazed earthenware 34.3 x 42.5 cm 1882 – 1888, Merton Abbey period. ©De Morgan Foundation
Carnation Rice Dish, Tin glazed earthenware, 1872 – 1907, William De Morgan . ©De Morgan Foundation
Scarlet Macaw and Blue-Fronted Amazon Parrot tile panels, tin glazed earthenware, 1872-1907, William De Morgan. ©De Morgan Foundation
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