If you head to a side street in Kensington, you’ll find a small room filled with golden drawings that haven’t been seen for over 130 years, all by the pre-raphaelite artist, Evelyn De Morgan.
And they’re a visual feast glowing in this small dark room.
If the name of the artist sounds familiar, she’s the wife of the ceramist William De Morgan, whose work pops up occasionally on Antiques Roadshow, but his wife was as important an artist as he was a ceramicist.
Evelyn De Morgan developed a technique of buying pellets of gold pigment and grinding them herself into a powder that could be turned into a hard crayon, and she used them to draw on dark paper to create this incredible effect. She made 17 of the drawings, and this display of 13 of the artworks is the first time they’ve been seen in a public exhibition since 1889.
They’re all of religious or allegorical themes, as you might expect from someone schooled in the later years of the pre-raphaelite movement, and it’s likely that she chose to sketch them in gold as she believed gold to be the colour of spiritual salvation.
It’s not all gold, as a sketch, The Soul’s Prison House is divided by a bright strip of silver, a scroll containing the words of St Augustine of Hippo, and apart from the visible effect of the silver scroll, it’s possible that she chose that to make the holy text glow in the already golden sketch.
The room is lit by strips of light in the ceiling, and maybe by accident, but they reflect off the glass to create their own holy crown of lights lain over Dr Morgan’s golden sketches.
There are also some non-gold preparatory studies St. Francis made in pastel on paper, which have been included to show her skill as a draftswoman. Her vision of St. Francis is a bit of a historical hottie.
The representation of the knight in armour in Victoria Dolorosa is particularly notable for the way she managed to represent the metallic armour sitting in the same frame as the delicate billowing fabrics. One of the most technically detailed has to be Gloria in Excelsis, with the angels announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds, backed by a cloud of seraphim, although on a personal taste, the heavy cloud behind felt a bit over fussy.
The golden sketches took me back to a childhood hobby, of brass rubbing, and while some were done classically in black on white, my preference was to use gold and silver crayons on black paper. I was just crudely rubbing a brass, whereas Evelyn was an artist.
It’s a beautiful exhibition.
The exhibition, Evelyn De Morgan: The Gold Drawings is at Leighton House until 1st October 2023 and is free to visit. It’s open daily except Tuesdays, and is about a 10 minute walk from High Street Kensington tube station.
The artworks are on loan from the Trustees of the De Morgan Foundation and the Victoria Dolorosa is from the Leighton House collection.