A small but exquisite exhibition with this title is now on, free to all visitors, at the Guildhall Art Gallery (11 May – 28 October 2018). I chose to pop in yesterday because I’d heard there was a guided tour with curator Sarah Hardy of the De Morgan Foundation (charitable status), which owns the items loaned for this display. Those with time on their hands, or who are based nearby, I’d urge you to have a look; as the Guide Bleu says: ‘vaux le détour’.
Photos, writings, drawings, paintings, more importantly tiles and pottery of William De Morgan (1839-1917), a mate of William Morris, are on show. One of six, this London born (Bloomsbury) and bred chap (Fitzrovia, Chelsea, Morden and Fulham), dropped out of the Royal Academy of Arts after the first 4 of a mandatory 8-year training period, to focus on ceramics. Rather a late starter, he set up his business in 1872, and spent the next 30 years reinventing the lost art of lustre glazing and messing around with patterns – with a heavy mathematical bias.
Which was another reason my going. Shape, pattern, symmetry, style and nuance are all things I’m constantly seeing in my charts. I also believe this appreciation is innate, part of a DNA that is shared globally. It taps in to something deep and elemental, hence its mass appeal and sudden realisation; that feeling when you’ve ‘got it’.
Where William De Morgan has the upper hand on Technical Analysts is that he could imagine and translate 2-dimensional geometry, pattern and symmetry into 3-dimensional objects and spaces. The exhibition has a fabulous pot-bellied vase where a swirling fish-scale pattern (in fact fish caught in a net) sees the size and angle of the repeat mirror the vessel’s shape. One of the few remaining of his big commissions is the Arab Hall in Leighton House, Kensington; talk of working in large-scale 3D! He also designed the décor for entire rooms for P&O liners, imagine libraries and smoking rooms, but sadly all ships either sank or were broken up.
William inherited his love of maths from his father, Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871) whose favourite bed time read was Euclid’s ‘The Elements’, perhaps the most successful and influential textbook ever written. Augustus was elected founding President of the London Mathematical Society.
But more of him and the Society next week.