The collector: Rob, Coventry, UK.
The collection: Tiles by William De Morgan
The story behind the collection...
I'm a doctor but a ceramic collector and was brought up, at least for a while, in Stoke on Trent. I worked in some potbanks while I was a student, and spent my pocket money on old pots and stamps. The stamps were sold some time ago to buy more pots.
I love the work of William De Morgan (even though he never worked in Stoke on Trent!). He was born in 1839, the son of a prominent mathematician, Augustus De Morgan. His father wouldn't work in Oxford or Cambridge because these universities required allegiance to the Church of England and he held no truck with organised religion, so he became a professor at the University of London. Some of his books are still reprinted. His father's determination not to follow convention and his ability to produce novel work of lasting value may have rubbed off on William. Determined to be an artisit, William De Morgan went to art college but dropped our, despairing of drawing and redrawing plaster casts of classical sculpture. A family friend complained about his appearance at this time, so it seems being a long haired art college drop out is not a new phenomenon.
William De Morgan became a close friend of William Morris, and was at the heart of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1860's. Having designed stained glass for Morris for a while, he moved onto ceramics. Although William Morris designed and produced tiles, this was not his forte, and by 1872 William De Morgan set up his own works in Chelsea and became the principal supplier of ceramics to William Morris and his West End shops.
My collection is of the tiles of William De Morgan. Tiles are like little works of art, so much can be achieved in 6 inches square. They are also easier to store and rotate displays than vases and other pots. And if I were to collect the superb large chargers and vases De Morgan produced, I might be in competition with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has a superb collection and rather deeper pockets than myself.
My favourite pieces are the animals. Few of them are real to life, but none of them are soppy and anthropomorphic as some Victorian artists would have it. They are exotic and wild but not really dangerous (apart from the big red Bogey, but there's only one example of this known so far). I also admire De Morgan's ability to move through classic Arts and Crafts, via a bit of the Aesthetic and touches on Art Nouveau in a couple of later tile panels.
Are there any pieces I would like? A red lustre unicorn, a full colour tile with two chameleons, and kingfisher and fish - they have all escaped me in the last few years. Never mind, I am pretty lucky with what I have got.
You can see a lot of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Birmingham Museum, and of course the De Morgan Centre in London. And see some of the tiles here on Obsessionistas and also on my Flickr site - enjoy!