At the De Morgan Centre from May 1st-June 29th
Hidden Heritage: Mrs Stirling, Old Battersea House and the De Morgan Collection
1st May – 29th June 2013
This exhibition at the De Morgan Centre reveals a rare insight into the hidden heritage of Wandsworth and the unique personality of Mrs Stirling, a Battersea resident who displayed her substantial collection of Victorian art in one of the borough’s finest buildings.
Old Battersea House in Vicarage Crescent was under threat of demolition until Chelsea resident and author, Mrs Stirling, persuaded the then Battersea Council to grant her lifetime tenancy, offering to use the house to display her extensive art collection for the benefit of local residents. Mrs Stirling’s collection consisted in the main, of works by her sister, late Victorian artist Evelyn De Morgan, and the Arts and Crafts ceramics of her brother-in-law William De Morgan, a contemporary and close friend of William Morris. These were displayed in her home, where visitors could enjoy lengthy tours personally led by Mrs Stirling and her butler, Mr Peters.
This exhibition will explore in detail the eccentric personality of Mrs Stirling, the creative endeavours she took to expand her collection, and her exhaustive efforts to secure her significant De Morgan collection for the future. On display will be examples of Mrs Stirling’s writing and novels, photographs of Old Battersea House and its interior along with examples of some of the furniture and art work which she amassed, including much loved examples of the De Morgans’ art work
Key exhibits include:
- Mrs Stirling’s hand-written catalogues, which reveal the extent of her collection and contain notes on the history of Old Battersea House, 'Donors of Art Treasures to Old Battersea House', and a list of distinguished visitors.
- Telegrams from the Queen and the Queen Mother, mistakenly sent to Mrs Stirling a year early on her 99th birthday and subsequently altered by Mrs Stirling.
- A number of works by William and Evelyn De Morgan that were displayed in Old Battersea House, including Evelyn’s The Sea Maidens and William’s Leopard and Stag dish, which was given by William to Mrs Stirling as a wedding gift.
- A bust of Greek god Pan, purportedly one of the few artworks on which William and Evelyn collaborated.
- A black oak cabinet made by Morris and Co., decorated with an oil painted panel by William De Morgan depicting St George and the dragon.
This exhibition presents a unique opportunity to learn about an eccentric and much-loved Wandsworth resident, and to experience one of the borough's most significant cultural attractions in its previous incarnation, alongside the current De Morgan collection at West Hill. The House in Vicarage Crescent later became the London residence for Malcolm Forbes and is now the home of Alexandra Tolstoy and her partner Sergei Pugachev.
De Morgan Centre
The De Morgan Centre is a museum and gallery in the London Borough of Wandsworth, England, that houses a large collection of the work of the Victorian ceramic artist William De Morgan and his wife, the painter Evelyn De Morgan. The De Morgans were important figures in the Arts and Craft Movement and were also involved in the social issues of the day such as women's suffrage and education.
The collection was formed by Evelyn De Morgan's sister, Mrs Wilhelmina Stirling, who wrote several books under the name A.M.W. Stirling. It had previously been on display at her home, Old Battersea House. In the years following her death in 1965, parts of the collection were displayed at a number of locations including Cardiff Castle, Cragside in Northumberland and Knightshayes Court in Devon, all of which have interiors from the years when the De Morgans were active.
In 2002, the collection was rehoused at the former West Hill Reference Library in Wandsworth, in south west London, which dates from 1887. Threatened with the termination of its lease, the Centre closed to the public in 2009. However, it was given the opportunity to stay in Wandsworth, and reopened in September 2011. The De Morgan Centre is open to the public five days a week.
Mrs Stirling and Old Battersea House
In the 1920s the landscape of Wandsworth was changing and the striking building formerly known as Terrace House in Vicarage Crescent was under threat of demolition. Hearing of the house’s plight, Chelsea residents Mr and Mrs Stirling approached Battersea Council with an audacious proposal to rent the house for a nominal rent for life, offering to use the house to display their extensive collection of Victorian art and furniture for the benefit of Battersea residents. The Stirlings moved into the property which they renamed as Old Battersea House in 1931.
Mrs Stirling’s art collection consisted of a majority of paintings by her sister, Victorian artist Evelyn De Morgan, and the ceramics of her brother-in-law, William De Morgan, as well as works by Burne-Jones and a selection of antique furniture. She opened Old Battersea House to the public and would conduct lengthy tours accompanied by her butler, Mr Peters. She continued to welcome visitors to her home well into her later years, and died shortly before her 100th birthday in 1965.
Mrs Stirling was an eccentric personality who penned a number of successful novels in her lifetime, and regaled visitors with fanciful tales of ghosts and the provenance of her many antiques. She made it her life’s work to amass a substantial collection of the works of the De Morgans, and make exhaustive efforts to secure her significant De Morgan collection for the future. The De Morgan Foundation was formed on her bequest to look after the collection.
Old Battersea House 1965 to the present
After Mrs Stirling died, plans to run the property as a museum and local history library were drawn up by Wandsworth Council; however the costs proved to be unaffordable and the De Morgan Foundation, which by then had been set up to look after the collection, was asked to remove the collection. The house lay derelict for nearly a decade.
In the late 1970s American millionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes took a long lease on the property, and the house which became the centre of the Forbes family activities in the UK, has seen parties attended by Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Warren Buffett, Elizabeth Taylor and various members of the royal family.
In the early 1980’s the the De Morgan Foundation returned some of the collection there, and it was displayed alongside the Forbes’ collection of Victorian art and Victoriana. Tours of the property resumed and thousands of people viewed the two collections from then until 2001 when the Foundation removed the collection in preparation for the opening of the De Morgan Centre.
The Forbes family sold the property in 2011 and it is now the home of Alexandra Tolstoy and her partner Sergei Pugachev.
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April 12, 2013