William De Morgan relied on medieval designs in his arts and crafts pottery

This 64-page volume is a slim yet lavishly illustrated look at the life of William Frend De Morgan (1839-1917), an English potter, tile designer and novelist.

A lifelong friend of William Morris, De Morgan designed tiles, stained glass and furniture for Morris & Co. from 1863 to 1872. His tiles are often based on medieval designs or Persian patterns, and he experimented with innovative glazes and firing techniques. Galleons and fish were popular motifs, as were “fantastical” birds and other animals. Many of De Morgan’s designs were planned to create intricate patterns when several tiles were laid together.


At the age of 20 he entered the Royal Academy schools, but was disillusioned by the environment. Then he met Morris, and through him the Pre-Raphaelite circle. Soon De Morgan began experimenting with stained glass, ventured into pottery in 1863, and by 1872 had shifted his interest wholly to ceramics. In 1872, De Morgan set up a pottery works in Chelsea, central London, where he stayed through 1881 — his most fruitful decade as an art potter. The Arts & Crafts ideology he was exposed to through his friendship with Morris led De Morgan to explore all technical aspect of his craft. He soon rejected the use of blank commercial tiles, preferring to make his own, which he favored for their irregularities and better resistance to moisture.

As early as 1875, he began to work in earnest with a “Persian” palette: dark blue, turquoise, manganese purple, green, Indian red and lemon yellow. These featured fantastic creatures entwined with geometric motifs float under luminous glazes. When told that a competitor was copying his designs, he observed that “imitation is the sincerest form of pottery.”

De Morgan met his wife, the pre-Raphaelite painter Evelyn Pickering De Morgan, at a costume party when she came dressed as a tube of paint. He later turned his hand to writing novels, and became better known than he ever had been for his pottery. His first novel, Joseph Vance, was published in 1906, and was an instant sensation in the United States as well as the United Kingdom.

He died in London in 1917 of trench fever at the age of 77. ?

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