Research, Travels

A Visit to Wightwick Manor & The De Morgan Foundation

Today (16th November) marks the anniversary of the birth in 1839 of the artist William De Morgan.

William De Morgan portrait by Evelyn De Morgan and De Morgan shop sign in tiles at De Morgan Foundation, Wightwick Manor (better image at NPG) Photo: Lucy Brouwer

De Morgan was a lifelong friend of William Morris, a potter who designed tiles, stained glass and furniture for Morris and Co. I have wanted to visit the wide-ranging collection of his work and the work of his wife, artist Evelyn De Morgan at Wightwick Manor, near Wolverhampton for some time and last weekend I had the chance to see the house and its fantastic contents.

Image of Wightwick Manor Wikimedia Commons Rick Massey

The house itself is something of a trickster, built by architect Edward Ould for Theodore Mander in two parts in 1887 and 1892 in an Old English style with timber framing, red brick and tile hanging it looks like a carefully restored medieval building but it is not all it seems. On closer inspection the house is almost too good to be true – the timbers and patterns are a front and don’t reflect the construction of the place at all. There is a long process of restoration taking place and scaffolding was up when I visited, the untreated timbers are gradually being replaced and the illusion is being upheld.

Entrance to Wightwick Manor under restoration. I think Fothergill would have liked the faux-medieval tower… Photo: Lucy Brouwer
Tile hanging and timber at Wightwick Manor. Photo: Lucy Brouwer
Timbers full of detail at Wightwick Manor. Photo: Lucy Brouwer

The Mander family who made their fortune in paint and varnish later turned to local politics. They wanted period details for their home, and it was comfortably furnished with attention to craftsmanship and artistic interest. Stained glass by Charles Eamer Kempe (see previous blog on Lichfield Cathedral), wallpapers and rugs by William Morris, the house is a great example of late Victorian taste. I imagine that the lush textures and busy walls resemble to some extent what Fothergill’s house at 7 Mapperley Road in Nottingham might have looked like. Art, porcelain and glass but set off with electric lights. Carefully chosen objects and medieval themes dominate.

Four seasons stained glass by Charles Kempe at Wightwick Manor. Photo: Lucy Brouwer
William De Morgan plate. Bold colour and strong shapes. Photo: Lucy Brouwer

In the 20th century, Geoffrey Mander and his wife Rosalie gave Wightwick to the National Trust but continued to live there and collect Pre-Raphaelite art, William Morris designs and the pottery of William De Morgan. The house also contains paintings by Evelyn De Morgan – a painter whose skills and contribution to this colourful style are enjoying closer attention in the 21st century.

Evelyn De Morgan’s colours were fantastic but I also really liked this Study of a head. Better photos of some of the work here

The De Morgan Foundation – set up by Evelyn’s sister the redoubtable Wilhelmina Stirling – houses some of both artists’ work in the coach house on the site. The lustreware tiles and bowls made by William are startlingly modern and bright, Evelyn’s drawing and painting to my mind sometimes even finer than that of the more celebrated Edward Burne Jones.

A couple of people I’ve met who live in Fothergill houses have mentioned that they have tiles that might be De Morgan or at least inspired by his style. I love these galleons that were in the medieval hall at Wightwick Manor. Photo: Lucy Brouwer

Next on my list of places to visit – Cannon Hall near Barnsley where more of William and Evelyn De Morgan’s work is housed.