08 July 2011

Top Five Friday: Evelyn de Morgan

Art is eternal, but life is short. . . .I will make up for it now.  I have not a moment to lose.
~ Evelyn de Morgan

Although not a member of the Pre Raphaelites, Evelyn de Morgan was nonetheless heavily influenced by their aesthetic philosophy.  Her uncle and early mentor of her work, was Roddam Spencer Stanhope, and Edward Burne-Jones, was a close friend and also encouraged her talent.  Both men were friends with the founders of the Brotherhood and were themselves inspired by their work.

Her attention to detail was noted by friends such as Sir William Blake Richmond and another friend and artist, George Frederick Watts called her the "first woman artist of the day ~ if not of all time."  Born in 1855, Evelyn, after much persuasion of her upper class parents, enrolled in the Slade School of Art.  She would go on to be a founding exhibitor of the Grosvenor Gallery. [1]  For more on her life, visit the De Morgan Foundation, located in London and responsible for the housing and care of the majority of the De Morgan Collection.

Hero Holding the Beacon for Leander (1885) De Morgan Centre, London
This is by far my favorite of de Morgan's paintings.  There is something darkly beautiful about a raging sea and a stormy night.  Especially when you are waiting for your lover to swim to your side.  In Greek legend, Hero was a priestess of Venus and Leander her mortal lover.  The detail and mastery shown here is incredible: I feel the icy spray on my feet, my arm is stiff with cold, but I cannot relax my vigil. Leander is counting on the light to lead the way.  I am no longer looking at a painting ~ I have become part of it.

Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund (1905) De Morgan Centre, London
Rosamund was the mistress of King Henry II.  It is said that he built her a house constructed in a maze so that his wife, Queen Eleanor, could not find her.  Legend says that the Queen used a thread to find her way and offered Rosamund the choice of stabbing or poison.  In paintings of the same subject , the Pre Raphaelites shows the mistress as fair and innocent and the wronged wife as evil.  It is less noticeable in de Morgan's depiction, but it is there in the black smoke trailing behind Eleanor, attended by what appears to be flying serpents. I love the detail and the brilliant colouring of the women's clothing.

Luna (1885) De Morgan Centre, London
Bound by the earth's gravitational pull, yet not of the earth, the moon seems to be half awake, half asleep.  de Morgan had this to say about her personification:

Art thou pale for weariness
    of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless... [2]

Here, the soft, misty colours, the contrast between dark and light, elicit a feeling of both mystery, melancholy, and romance.


The Love Potion (1903)
The position and placement of the model in the middle foreground of the canvas, the brilliant colours, the attention to detail in the rug and draperies, and the subject herself, her clothes reminiscent of ancient Greece or Rome, all point to the heavy influence of the Brotherhood.  Unfortunately, I could not find where the original painting is now.

Hope in the Prison of Despair (1887)
Although I adore the play of light and shadow in this painting, I was more drawn to the title of it.  When I first read it, I thought what an interesting thought to have Hope locked up in Despair's chains!  But then I looked that the painting again.  Hope isn't locked up in Despair's prison ~ it is Despair, dressed in black, bent over and hiding her face, who is chained by her own futility.  Hope has entered the cell to set Despair free, bearing a candle to light the way. 

Reading the painting further, we see a broken chain, which makes Despair's pose more poignant: even free of her chains, she cannot stand upright or look Hope in the face, illustrating that Despair's prison is not an external one at all, but inside of her.

As with The Love Potion, my search for the whereabouts of the original painting came up empty, so perhaps they are privately owned. 

What do you think of Evelyn de Morgan's art?  How close to the Pre Raphaelite ideal did she come?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Notes: 1, 2:  from Elise Lawton Smith's Evelyn Pickering de Morgan and the Allegorical Body, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, May 2002.

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