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A Century of Giving

William De Morgan & Co.

Peacock tiles


earthenware, slip-coated, decorated with traced-transfer design, 87.3 x 51 cm

The Fitzwilliam Museum: C.1-1976

William De Morgan (1839-1917) was the most important ceramic artist of the Arts & Crafts movement. A close friend of William Morris, he produced tiles and ceramics that complemented Morris & Co.'s popular textiles and wallpapers.

De Morgan's hand-painted tiles were bought in huge numbers to decorate the fireplaces of middle class 'artistic' homes, or framed and hung on the walls. His designs commonly included mythical beasts as well as plants and animal forms - like these glorious intertwined peacocks and fish.

De Morgan's inspiration came from Middle Eastern ceramics, with their rich deep colours, dynamic floral designs and architectural forms. Islamic pottery was collected avidly in the 19th century and De Morgan would have seen many such examples at the South Kensington (now V. & A.) Museum. The Fitzwilliam also has a good deal of Iznik and Turkish pottery - much of it acquired with Friends' money from Cockerell's time onwards.

Cockerell's first purchase from the Friends' fund - a panel of Islamic tiles - in 1909, was a tribute to his own friendship with William Morris. Twenty years later (again using Friends' money) he bought two panels of Damascus tiles which had belonged to Morris himself.

Since then, the Friends' fund has been used to buy more Morris-related material. Some of this - like the hand-woven curtains and 'Minstrel' tiles designed by Morris - is on display in Gallery 27.

These acquisitions coincided with the birth of Fitzwilliam Museum Enterprises in 1979 and the commercialising of the collection (although Cockerell had initiated the sale of the first post cards during WW1). This tile panel is just one of many striking objects whose motifs have been successfully transferred to a range of merchandise, such as postcards, notelets, and fridge magnets.

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