In a unique collaboration between the National Trust, the De Morgan Foundation, the V&A and the National Portrait Gallery, a vibrant collection of paintings, sketches, and ceramics have been brought together to tell a fascinating story about the creative process of artists Evelyn and William De Morgan.

The De Morgan Gallery in the Malthouse at Wightwick Manor and Gardens (which first opened in 2016) has been completely refreshed, with an exhibition curated by National Trust Assistant Curator Hannah Squire. “The De Morgan’s are incredibly important in the history of art and design. In this exhibition I explore: how they developed their skills, where they drew inspiration from, the techniques they used and the other people involved in the process. Evelyn’s drawings and William’s test tiles are testament to the hard work, dedication and talent that flourished in this artistic marriage.” The majority of items belong to the de Morgan Foundation collection, including several preparatory sketches by Evelyn de Morgan which have been framed for the first time and displayed next to the finished works, enabling visitors to see the process and thought that lies beneath the final piece.

The V&A has lent a signature lustre-ware William De Morgan vase complete with preparatory sketches. Evelyn’s painting of William proudly holding this very vase will be hanging next to them, on loan from The National Portrait Gallery from February 2020.

The jewelled, vibrant colours of Evelyn’s paintings really leap out of the walls and bring the whole place to life. Closer study reveals the intricate details within the paintings, and the preparatory sketches demonstrate the importance of life study, which was finally available to women artists.

The far end of the gallery is devoted to ceramics laid out as William might have done in his ballroom shop showroom of 1880s-1890s. Let your imagination follow that of William de Morgan as you enjoy his ships, seascapes, fish and fantasy landscapes – with his usual menagerie of amazing fantastic beasts on tiles, plates and pots.

Both the De Morgans and the Mander family (who lived at Wightwick Manor and gave the house and collection to the National Trust in 1936) were inspired by the Aesthetic Movement, Art for Art’s Sake, and Oscar Wilde’s ‘House Beautiful’ lecture. This exhibition shows the link between the De Morgans and the Manders’ collecting ethos – focussing as it did on sketches, preliminary studies and works in process – the thought process and artistic struggle that lies beneath the lustre of the finished article.

More ceramics and artwork by both William and Evelyn can be seen throughout the house as part of the permanent collection. William’s writing desk is also currently on loan from the De Morgan Foundation and can be seen in the Manor, alongside a charmingly illustrated letter to his niece.

Sarah Hardy, Chief Executive of the De Morgan Foundation, said ‘Wightwick Manor has the most important collection of De Morgan drawings outside of the Foundation’s own. ‘Look Beneath the Lustre’ explores how the De Morgan’s created their beautiful artworks, using original sketches from both collections, alongside the finished artworks. It is rare to be able to see so much of an artist’s working process in an exhibition, which makes this one very special.

She added “Wightwick Manor, a palace of Victorian Arts and Crafts, is the perfect setting for Evelyn De Morgan’s sumptuous pictures and William De Morgan’s lustrous ceramics, and this exhibition is very much in the spirit of this unique place. The De Morgan Collection is very much at home at Wightwick and this exhibition is a wonderful celebration of the partnership between the Foundation and the National Trust.”