Sunday, 26 July 2009


“We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.” - Marcel Proust

For Art Sunday today, Mary Evelyn De Morgan, née Pickering, who was a late-Victorian artist living and working in a period marked by enormous changes. Born mid-century in an England ruled over by Queen Victoria, she lived to see a series of changes climaxing in 1914 with the collapse of established world order. It was amidst this atmosphere of increasing uncertainty and anxiety that De Morgan came to maturity and developed her personal and artistic philosophies. Throughout her career as a painter, she used literary allusion and allegory to express her strongly held views on contemporary spiritual, social and moral issues.

She was born in London the daughter of upper-middle class parents and the niece of Rodhamn Spencer-Stanhope. She joined the ranks of the later Pre-Raphaelites who took their inspiration from the more romantic paintings of Rossetti and Burne-Jones. Her early ambition to paint was discouraged by her parents but later she was permitted to become a student at the Slade School and in due course to study in Italy, in Rome and in Florence. As a young woman she exhibited Ariadne in Naxos at the first Exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877.

Her mature style, which is distinguished by a precision of detail and a fondness for mythological subjects, was derived in part from her first artistic mentor, Roddam Spencer- Stanhope, with whom she frequently painted and visited with following his permanent departure for Tuscany in 1880. She was also much influenced by Edward Burne-Jones who was a close friend of hers. Her painting was admired by a circle of fellow-artists. Evelyn Pickering married the potter William De Morgan in 1887 and lived with him in London until his death in 1917. She died two years later.

The painting above is “Earthbound” of 1897. It belongs to the suite of allegorical subjects and with typical Victorian, heavy-handed, moralistic imagery the message is clear “you can’t take it with you, no matter who you are…” The freed spirit flying upwards into the light of the upper right is not encumbered with riches or high position. The king clinging to his riches is earthbound and does not respond easily to the call of the angel of death. Nevertheless, once his time is nigh, no matter how tightly he grasps his gold, it will not save him, but perhaps it may drag him downward to the depths of Tartarus rather than upward into the heavens.


  1. I like the rich colours

  2. This is so much like the other preraphelites, isn't it? Agree about your point regarding the Victorian morality.

  3. This is lovely! I wish I could hang it in my den!

  4. Although I would call myself a lover of art, this is not a style that I appreciate...however, I certainly admire the woman.