Born in 1839, William De Morgan was a prominent figure in the Arts & Crafts movement. He collaborated with other historical figures in the Arts & Crafts including William Morris and Edward Burne Jones. He is widely regarded as the founding father of the British Art Pottery Movement and the founding member of the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society.
Initially, De Morgan decorated blank tiles from Holland and ceramic vessels from Staffordshire. He fired his pieces in a kiln constructed in his family home in Fitzroy square London. In 1863, he got his first career break when he met William Morris. De Morgan was assigned the tile production side of the business, since Morris was not very successful with ceramics. The two collaborated for many years to come.
De Morgan’s early career saw him experiment with various techniques in ceramic making. Some of his earlier work was influenced by Middle Eastern patterns, to which he was exposed during one of his assignments – tiling an Arab Hall for Frederic Lord Leighton’s house.
His expertise steadily developed and soon he was producing high quality double and triple lustre glazes. His glazes were principally divided in two – the Persian ware in a Middle Eastern palate and lustre glazes in single, double and triple colour ways. The designs were typically arts & crafts: animals, galleons, stylised flowers, and mythical creatures rendered onto bowls, vases and tiles.
De Morgan’s next important project was between 1882 and 1900. He was commissioned by P&O to provide tile decorations for twelve new cruise liners. His tile designs depicted landscapes representing cities and countries visited by P&O liners on their journey to the Middle East.
By the early 1900s, his designs were starting to lose demand as they were considered old-fashioned. In 1907 he eventually retired and moved on to novel writing where he found considerable success.