The beautiful tiles produced to adorn fashionable late 19thC homes by Arts and Crafts potter William De Morgan (1839-1917) are now considered tiny, vibrantly coloured works of art. The pioneering craftsman rejected the overly elaborate and mass-produced ceramics of the Victorian era in favour of unpretentious motifs and traditional craftsmanship. Like many of the more innovative designers of his generation, his patterns and shapes drew inspiration from the past.
After studying at the Royal College of Art, de Morgan worked decorating factory-made tiles with animals, grotesques and Lustre glazes. By the mid-1870s he had established his own studio in Chelsea and was producing “Persian” vases, influenced by 15th and 16thC Iznak pottery, and decorated in blues and greens. After moving to William Morris’s Merton Abbey Workshops in Surrey, de Morgan experimented with Hispano-Moresque designs and turned his attention once more to tiles. Individually painted, de Morgan’s handcrafted tiles were decorated with rich and energetic swirling designs typically incorporating leaves, flowers, peacocks and fish.
In 1888, de Morgan founded a pottery at Sands End in Fulham, in collaboration with Halsey Ricardo. The Sunlight and Moonlight series, with their double and triple lustre effects, were among some of his greatest achievements of the period. Ill health eventually drove de Morgan to Florence, where he set up a studio to supply the Italian pottery Cantagalli with his exciting designs.
As well as being very influential, de Morgan was extremely prolific producing over 300 different designs during his lifetime. His work is valuable today. A typical Persian tile could be worth around £200-300 while a particularly attractive, large tile could sell for £500 or more. A peacock panel made up of six tiles may be worth around £8,000-10,000 depending on condition.