Sublime Symmetry: The Mathematics behind De Morgan’s Ceramic Designs

Fan Tile Panel, William De Morgan, Tin Glazed Earthenware, 1872 – 1904 © De Morgan Foundation

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Watch the exhibition curators introductory youtube film

Sublime Symmetry: The Mathematics behind De Morgan’s Ceramic Designs    
On now until 5 March 2017
Galleries 7, 8 & 9 New Walk Museum & Art Gallery

Sublime Symmetry exhibition showcases the work of William De Morgan, the celebrated Victorian Arts and Crafts designer.

The exhibition presents over 80 magnificent works, including ceramics from the De Morgan Collection and his designs on paper on loan from the V&A. The pieces have all been chosen to demonstrate the mathematical concepts which are the basis for his beautiful and colourful ceramic designs. Sublime Symmetry will span across three of our galleries, with additional pieces from the Leicester Museums’ collection.

Children and families will be able to explore the patterns, shapes and symmetry in De Morgan’s elaborately decorated tiles and pots, making learning maths fun. There are interactive games plus a variety of free learning resources, such as our family activity sheet aimed at 5 years and upwards and our resource bags for younger visitors, 1 -5 years.

The exhibition is supported by an exciting free self-directed schools programme and teacher information pack aimed at Key Stage 2 level Mathematics with cross-curricular links to English, Art & Design and History. The teacher’s resource pack can be used as a stand-alone classroom resource, but it has been designed to complement and support a school trip to the exhibition.

The idea for the Sublime Symmetry exhibition stems from The De Morgan Foundation’s own research into William De Morgan’s use of mathematics to create his ceramic designs and discovery of the links between the devices he used and what is taught in mathematics at KS2 today.

If you would like to visit the exhibition with your class, we would strongly advise you to book in advance. to book, please email learning@leicester.gov.uk or call 0116 225 4910.

Free self-directed schools programme and Key Stage 2 teacher information pack
For more information download the teachers information sheet and KS2 resource pack.

Sublime Symmetry touring venues:

6 March - 5 June 2016 at Towneley Hall, Burnley

11 June - 4 September 2016 at Cannon Hall, Barnsley

10 September - 4 December 2016 at Torre Abbey, Torbay

10 December 2016 - 5 March 2017 at the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester

12 March -  3 September 2017 at the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

The De Morgan Foundation is grateful to the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, the London Mathematical Society and The Art Fund: Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant, who have made the touring exhibition possible with their generous support.


All events at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery. For bookable events, please call 0116 225 4900.
Download our Sublime Symmetry events programme for adults, children and families.

Sublime Symmetry: Curator's talk & tour with Traditional Afternoon Tea - Event now sold out!
Sunday 22 January
2pm – 4.30pm
New Walk Museum & Art Gallery and The Belmont Hotel
Join Sarah Hardy, Exhibition Curator for an enlightening insight into William De Morgan and his ceramics followed by a delicious Traditional Afternoon Tea at the luxurious Belmont Hotel. Event now sold out! T: 0116 225 4900

Sublime Symmetry: Children’s Linocut workshop by Leicester Print Workshop
Saturday 28 January
11am – 1pm & 2pm – 4pm
Explore the wonderful technique of lino printing to create some amazing pieces of artwork inspired by the William De Morgan ceramic designs. Linocut is a relief printmaking technique where the surface of a piece of lino is cut away so that the image you want to print remains. This is then inked up and printed from.  An ideal creative gift, suitable for beginners and those with a little experience. £12 per person, limited places, suitable for ages 8 and upwards. Please purchase from New Walk Museum & Art Gallery shop. T: 0116 225 4900

Sublime Symmetry: Vinylcut workshop by Leicester Print Workshop
Sunday 29 January
11am – 4pm
Lose yourself in the wonderful ceramics of William De Morgan with a guided talk and tour. Use this as your inspiration to create and produce your own designs using the Vinyl Print process. Vinylcut is a relief printmaking technique where the surface of a piece of vinyl is cut away so that the image you want to print remains. This is then inked up and printed from. A perfect gift for someone special. £40 per person, limited places, suitable for adults. Please purchase from New Walk Museum & Art Gallery shop. T: 0116 225 4900

Storytelling Sunday: De Morgan and Iranian myths
Sunday 5 February
2pm – 2.30pm & 3pm – 3.30pm
Explore the De Morgan exhibition and listen to tales from Iran, Turkey, North Africa and Spain. Drop in, no need to book. T: 0116 225 4900

De Morgan: Fibonacci Spiral Display
Sunday 12 February - Friday 17 February
11am – 4pm
Find us in the Victorian gallery and explore the mathematical beauty of spirals within nature. Free event. For groups larger than 10 persons, advance booking recommended. Please call 0116 225 4900 for enquiries.

Sublime Symmetry: Curator's Talk and Tour for Families
Wednesday 15 February
12pm – 12.30pm & 2pm – 2.30pm

Join us as we take a journey through the exhibition with curator Sarah Hardy to reveal more to the ceramics than meets the eye.  Come and listen to the stories behind the pots! You may also want to do the Tile Painting workshop as the Talk & Tours are timed before and after these workshops. Free drop-in event. T: 0116 225 4900

De Morgan: Tile painting session
Wednesday 15 & Friday 17 February
11am, 1pm & 3pm
Paint and decorate your own William De Morgan inspired ceramic tile. £3 per session, booking essential, to book please call 0116 225 4900.

Sublime Symmetry Tour: Islamic Ceramics Talk with North African Tea & Cake
Sunday 26 February
2.30pm – 4.30pm
Join our Curator of World Arts who will discuss how William De Morgan has been inspired by Spanish, Iranian and Turkish ceramics dating from 1400 to 1600. Complete the afternoon with a North African inspired afternoon tea and cake. £7.50 per person, please purchase from New Walk Museum & Art Gallery shop. T: 0116 225 4900 Invite and share the facebook event.

Flamingo and Carnation Tiles, William De Morgan, Tin Glazed, 1872-1904 © De Morgan Foundation

William De Morgan

William De Morgan is considered to be the most important ceramicist of the Arts and Crafts Movement. He began his artistic career working alongside William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones before opening his own pottery studio in 1872.

De Morgan’s experiments in ceramic glazes led him to rediscover the lost art of lustre decoration and he excelled at reproducing the brilliant colours associated with Islamic pottery, particularly the bright turquoise which features prominently in his ceramic work.

De Morgan was especially inspired by Isnik work of the 16th century and was responsible for installing and repairing the magnificent Arab Hall at Leighton House (Royal Borough of Kensington).

De Morgan worked primarily as a ceramic designer and had a substantial staff of decorators. During his career he worked on a range of commissions from stately homes to the Czar of Russia’s yacht and his tiles decorated the public rooms and corridors of several P&O Liners. He was a colourful character and many of his intricate designs demonstrate his invention and humour. However, his head for invention rather overtook his business sense and he struggled to make a financial success of the pottery.

De Morgan ran his pottery from three different London locations during the lifespan of the company. He first opened for business in 1872 at Cheyne Row in Chelsea. By 1882 De Morgan had outgrown this site and moved production to Merton Abbey, near Wimbledon. This was close to the workshop of his friend and colleague, William Morris. De Morgan moved the pottery for a final time in 1888 to Sands End in Fulham, where it remained until the closure of the business. 

De Morgan was also a stained glass artist, inventor and chemist. After his pottery closed in 1904 he embarked on a career as a novelist and in the final years before his death he published seven novels, all of which enjoyed enormous success and brought their author the financial security which had until then eluded him. Alongside his wife Evelyn Pickering De Morgan, whom he married in 1887, he was actively involved with the issues of his day such as education, prison reform, the suffragette movement, pacifism and spiritualism.

The De Morgan Foundation

The De Morgan Collection and the De Morgan Foundation

The De Morgan Collection is an unparalleled collection of work by Arts and Crafts ceramicist William De Morgan and his artist wife Evelyn Pickering De Morgan. They were both highly esteemed in their fields.

The De Morgan Collection was formed by William De Morgan’s sister-in-law, Mrs Wilhelmina Stirling, who provided public access to the works at her home, Old Battersea House in London. After her death in 1965, the De Morgan Foundation was established to care for the collection.

The Foundation’s drawing and manuscripts archive can be viewed by appointment and access to the De Morgan Collection is provided through a programme of national and international exhibitions and loans.

Visit their website for more information on The De Morgan Foundation.