Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body
"This is the first comprehensive study of the paintings of one of the most significant and prolific Victorian women artists, Evelyn Pickering De Morgan (1855–1919). Just over a hundred paintings and a handful of sculptures are known, and they reveal what her sister-biographer described as an “incessant struggle” to create. As she worked toward achieving professional recognition in her long career of exhibiting and selling her art, De Morgan also attempted to express in her polished, late Pre-Raphaelite style a distinctive, complex, and richly layered iconography. In her oeuvre she fused metaphysical concerns about material embodiment and spiritual transcendence with social concerns about debilitating constraints and creative freedom. Much of what makes De Morgan’s art of special interest lies at the intersection of biographical, social, and spiritual realities, where the vision of a new freedom for women struggles with the still often restrictive visual and philosophical language of turn-of-the-century England. Although her style was relatively uniform throughout her career, combining aspects of late Pre-Raphaelitism, Symbolism, Aestheticism, and Victorian Classicism, she explored a wide range of mythological, biblical, literary, and allegorical subjects. The vast majority of these images involve women as the protagonists. At times they droop in resignation, caught within the confines of their domestic lives, but often they are portrayed as powerful natural elements actively in control of their destinies. On one level, these are allegories of the bondage of materialism and embodiment, showing the redemptive possibility of the soul’s liberation from all such constraints. This close study of her work confirms that the idea of progress toward an afterlife is a recurrent motif, arising from a personal involvement in the movement of Spiritualism and paralleling the automatic writing passages in The Result of an Experiment (1909), anonymously published by Evelyn and her husband William De Morgan. On another level, however, common ground can also be found for some of these paintings in the late Victorian social and political discourse concerning a woman’s search for autonomy and for the physical and psychic space needed for independent action. De Morgan’s images of imprisonment show women bound, as all humans are, by mortal flesh, but bound, more specifically, by female role norms. Woman’s freedom, expressed in De Morgan’s paintings of women as personifications of natural elements, is also two-fold, consisting of a non-gendered movement toward spirituality, toward the ethereal, but also as a particularly female turn away from stagnant domesticity toward the positive energies of creative expression"--Back cover.
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The Making of a Life
Art as Commodity Exhibitions Sales and Critical Response
The De Morgans as Spiritualists
That Hard Incessant Struggle The Work of Art as an Ideal
Icon and Narrative Renegotiated De Morgans Early Use of Mythological Biblical and Literary Themes
The Role of Women in De Morgans Later History Paintings
Women and Their Spaces The Constraints of Prison the Freedom of Nature
Dim is the Light from Beyond Images of Light and Darkness as Spiritual Metaphor
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aesthetic allegories Angel appeared Ariadne Art Gallery automatic writing beauty body Bridgeman Art Library Burne-Jones career Christian Clytie Courtauld Institute darkness dawn death described despair drapery earth Evelyn De Morgan exhibited Experiment female figure flowers G. F. Watts gan's George Frederic Watts Gordon Grosvenor Gallery harmony Heaven human Ibid Idols of Perversity images Institute of Art Kestner late Victorian later Leighton light location unknown London male marriage Marsh and Nunn Matter to Spirit Medea mermaid metaphor Misogyny moon moral Morgan Foundation Morgan's painting Museum myth mythological Mythology and Misogyny Night nineteenth century nude Oberhausen Painters personifications Photo Photographic Survey Pictures poem pose Pre-Raphaelite Prison Result role Rossetti sexual sister Slade Sophia De Morgan Sotheby's soul Spencer-Stanhope spiritual spiritualist Stirling suggested Swedenborg symbolic Tate Gallery theme tion University Press viewer visual Watts's William De Morgan Witt Library Women Artists Yates York