Evelyn De Morgan (Mary Evelyn Pickering) was an English painter in the reign of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V who was within the circle of later phase of the Pre-Raphaelites who took their influences from the romantic paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.
Evelyn was born in 1855 to a upper middle class family in London and was introduced to art by her uncle John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. On her 17th birthday, August 30th 1872, Evelyn recorded in her diary “At the beginning of each year I say ‘I will do something’ and at the end I have done nothing. Art is eternal, but life is short”..”I will make up for it now, I have not a moment to lose.” In 1873, she was enrolled at the Slade School of Art and her style of painting developed rapidly in those three years. It is believed that in the beginning of 1875 Evelyn often visited John Roddam Spencer Stanhope in Florence where he resided. It enabled her to study the paintings and the artists of the Renaissance. She exhibited Ariadne in Naxos at the first Exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. On 5th March 1887, She married William Frend De Morgan who was a friend and colleague of William Morris.
De Morgan was a prolific artist. Combined with her feminist and pacifist beliefs she expressed her distinctiveness of style with vivid allegory and spiritualism. Unlike the works of her male contemporaries, such as those by Edward Coley Burne-Jones, who seemed to be envisioned women in a dreamlike constructions, her works were focused on delineating women who have the strength of overcoming obstacles of the physical world to reach spiritual empowerment and redemption. In 1899 with the onset of South African War and later World War I in 1914, she expressed her pacifism through a series of paintings including The Red Cross and S.O.S (the International Morse code distress signal).
Evelyn De Morgan, S.O.S. (c 1914-16),
The rainbow in S.O.S represent a deep mythological and spiritual meaning. In Greek mythology Iris is the personification of the rainbow and a messenger linking the gods to humanity and in Norse mythology a burning rainbow bridge called the Bifrost connects the Midgard (earth) with Asgard, the home of the gods. Hence, The rainbow in the painting alludes the bridge between the souls and gods after the inevitable and bloodcurdling deaths for war and loss.
The works of Evelyn De Morgan offer a fascinating insight into the Victorian Era ideas. As George Frederic Watts pronounced her ‘the first woman-artist of the day — if not of all time’.