The links between the Morris family and Evelyn and William de Morgan are well documented. May Morris recalled the youthful pleasure of watching the unpacking of a de Morgan firing to see the shining colour of glazes and lustres fresh from the kiln, and the child-delighting riddles and puns that the two Williams exchanged. During the 1890s and 1900s William’s sister Mary de Morgan was a frequent visitor at Kelmscott Manor and Kelmscott House, sharing Jane’s committment to embroidery. Evelyn was a more silent member of the friendship, but is of course known for her portrayal of Janey in The Hour Glass.
Evelyn’s chalk portrait of Jenny was purchased by Mary Annie Sloane at the Kelmscott Manor sale after May’s death. But what happened to her dramatic chalk study of Luna, in gold paint on dark paper? It was also in the Kelmscott collection, having presumably been given by Evelyn to Jane sometime after the oil version was exhibited in 1886.The crescent moon in darkness, personified as a sleeping figure enmeshed in ropes that suggest loos entanglement rather than bondage, exemplifies Evelyn’s symbolic iconography of the human soul in thrall to materialism before the dawn of spiritual enlightenment. The Spiritualist movement in the late-Victorian era, to which both de Morgans (and William’s parents’ subscribed) held, or hoped, that the individual soul survived death to progress to further evolution. The majority of Evelyn’s paintings express such belief in various pictorial forms.
Jane Morris apparently had similar ideas, although actual documentation is so far sparse. In 1897 she wrote that she hoped that animals would be treated with less cruelty than was common, adding ‘for myself, I have long believed in the transmigration of souls, and consequently have regarded all living creatures with reverence.’ We don’t know when or why Janey adopted this belief in reincarnation, borrowed by Victorian Theosophy from Hindu and Buddhist thought, but it made for a link of sympathy with the De Morgans. They believed in the soul’s evolution after death, though not, I think, in its transmigration into other bodies, including animals and insects.One would like to know more about Janey’s belief system, as well as the fate of Evelyn’s gilded moon..