Friday, 5 October 2018

Sublime Symmetry

I hadn't been to the Guildhall Art Gallery for a good while. I was drawn there on this occasion to see an overview of the work of important Arts and Crafts ceramic designer William De Morgan (1839-1917). Sublime Symmetry: The Mathematics Behind William De Morgan's Ceramic Designs, explores the connection between his craft and calculation. Mathematics was in De Morgan's blood as his father Augustus was a noted mathematician and professor at UCL, and actually tutored Ada Lovelace (one the founders of the idea of computer programming). De Morgan combined his love of maths and his art training to create a variety of symmetrical and abstract designs to cover the surfaces of a variety of chargers, vases and tiles.

Inspired by historical medieval Islamic tessellated designs which he encountered in the British Museum and V&A museum, De Morgan began designing and building his own kilns and experimenting with glazes. He is credited with reinventing the dazzlingly iridescent surfaces of the lusterware technique. De Morgan worked with William Morris's firm - Morris & Co, initially designing stained glass with Edward Burne-Jones for a time, before establishing his own company in Chelsea, before relocating to Merton Abbey and finally Fulham. Below are a selection of his designs and finished ceramics based on natural animal and plant forms.

Early De Morgan artworks.

Books displaying De Morgan's mathematical inspiration.

The backs of the plates are just as beautifully decorated as the fronts.

I was intrigued in this exhibition to see De Morgan's processes, and how he worked out the designs on paper before translating them into their three-dimensional forms.

I encountered more beautiful William De Morgan's ceramics a short distance from the Guildhall Art Gallery in Postman's Park earlier this year, which you can read about (here). These designs sadly, were to be De Morgan's last major commission as his work was deemed outdated and unfashionable in a period that saw radical artistic developments such as Cubism, Futurism and Dada etc. “All my life I have been trying to make beautiful things...and now that I can nobody wants them" De Morgan lamented. The closure of his business led to new ventures however, and ceramics' loss became literature's gain as De Morgan went on to become a best-selling author. The legacy of his mathematically inspired designs and lustreware techniques remains though and still inspires new generations of craftspeople.

Sublime Symmetry: The Mathematics Behind William De Morgan's Ceramic Designs
until 28th October
Guildhall Art Gallery
(off Gresham Street)