Sublime Symmetry: a celebration of William De Morgan’s stunning ceramics

New exhibition opening at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Autumn 2021

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New exhibition opening at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Autumn 2021 

A stunning collection of ceramic objects by the Victorian, pre-eminent ceramic designer, William De Morgan, is coming to the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight this autumn. 

Sublime Symmetry: De Morgan Ceramics, featuring around 70 objects on loan from The De Morgan Foundation, will be on display from 1 October 2021 until 9 January 2022.  

Famed for richly coloured, lustrous glazed tiles and pottery with birds and dragon decoration, De Morgan’s work is beautiful and iconic. But, behind the fantastical beasts which wrap themselves around De Morgan’s vases and the fanciful flora which meanders across his tiles, there is a rigorously planned mathematical structure. Sublime Symmetry uncovers the pattern, shape and symmetry in De Morgan’s designs. 

The exhibition will include an exploration of De Morgan’s career and the influence of William Morris on his early work, as well as how Islamic Art and De Morgan’s rediscovery of lustre, a thousand years after it was first used by potters in the Middle East, shaped his art.  

De Morgan’s unique experiments with glazes once caused a house fire in his rented London home when he used the fireplace as a makeshift kiln. De Morgan’s comprehension of mathematics and ability to manipulate his designs to adhere to precise geometric rules, as well as his understanding of elements and glaze, enabled him to make the sublime symmetrical patterns featured in the exhibition. 

In 1859 De Morgan was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools and had a classical art training. He met William Morris in 1863 and began designing stained glass for him before setting up his own business in 1872. From 1877 – 1881 he installed Sir Frederic Leighton’s Middle Eastern tiles in the Arab Hall at his home in London, which sparked his interest in these complex geometric designs and inspired his future work. Over the years his interests, abilities and experimentations with pottery developed and he created more figurative and ambitious pieces. 

Sublime Symmetry: De Morgan Ceramics is curated by Sarah Hardy, Curator of The De Morgan Foundation, who says:

Over his career, William De Morgan revolutionised the field of ceramic design with his reinvention of lustreware, dedication to studying and perfecting Middle Eastern designs, invention and use of his own kilns and his wonderful patterns. Sublime Symmetry: De Morgan Ceramics presents De Morgan as a natural mathematician and talented draughtsman. Presenting De Morgan’s design process in this intersectional way has drawn interest from mathematicians and art historians alike.

Nicola Scott, Exhibition Curator, National Museums Liverpool, said:

In art, symmetry is synonymous with beauty. De Morgan was a talented mathematician and he used the precision of that skill to create beautiful art. The true splendour of De Morgan’s tiles can be fully appreciated when the full pattern is displayed. Visitors are going to see a visually stunning display: beautiful to see, but also underpinned by this mathematical approach.  

Continuous circle patterns can be seen on the borders and rims of De Morgan’s elaborately decorated dishes and plates. He has borrowed this decoration from Islamic design, where such circular patterns represent the infinite nature of Allah, as they can be endlessly traced with no beginning and no end. The De Morgan pieces are exhibited alongside our internationally renowned Pre-Raphaelite collection, which includes world-famous paintings by Edwards Burne-Jones who, like De Morgan, worked with William Morris and was a member of the Arts and Crafts movement. The Lady Lever Art Gallery also has late Victorian masterpieces by Lord Leighton, whose Arab Hall so inspired De Morgan.

The exhibition is free to enter but visitors are encouraged to pay what they feel. 

The De Morgan Foundation owns an unparalleled collection of ceramics and oil paintings by William and Evelyn De Morgan, the husband and wife duo who were key proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th and early 20th Century. 

Educational resources from the exhibition, specifically designed to teach KS2 mathematics through ceramic design, are available here: 

Exhibition information:  



Sarah Webster 
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Phone no 07384 510 967 



Lady Lever Art Gallery : 

The Lady Lever Art Gallery houses one of the UK’s greatest collections of fine and decorative art. Its Pre- Raphaelite paintings are internationally renowned, with highlights including The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt, The Beguiling of Merlin and The Tree of Forgiveness by Edward Burne-Jones, The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and The Black Brunswickers by John Everett Millais. It is home to the best collection of Wedgwood jasperware in the world and a Chinese art collection including famille verte wares from the Kangxi period (1662-1722), cloisonne enamels, painted glass pictures and Ming dynasty ceramics. The gallery houses an internationally significant collection of fine 18th century furniture as well as outstanding examples of British sculpture.   
The Lady Lever Art Gallery was founded by William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925), who made his fortune producing Sunlight Soap and other household products. Although recognised for his philanthropy in the UK, his global business interests led to trade and palm oil plantations in the Belgian Congo. The gallery follows Lever’s inclusive vision that ‘art can be to everyone an inspiration’. For this to be the case, the gallery recognises that the legacies of Lever’s business practices in The Congo, colonial histories and other under-represented narratives must be openly discussed and displayed. The gallery is currently engaged in research into Lever’s legacy and is reinterpreting its collection to fully reflect the histories of the collection. For more information on National Museums Liverpool’s response to Black Lives Matter see  

National Museums Liverpool:

National Museums Liverpool (NML) comprises seven venues, including some of the most visited museums in England outside of London. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic. We attracted more than 3 million visitors in 2019.  
Our venues are Museum of Liverpool, World Museum, Walker Art Gallery, Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Sudley House and Lady Lever Art Gallery. National Museums Liverpool is regulated by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).