The Island of Doctor De Morgan

The Island of Doctor De Morgan

I hope everyone remembers how to pronounce Wightwick by now because I’m not going to explain again. Today we arrived early enough to go on a tour, and learned that the furry lump on the dining table represents Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s pet wombat.
The wombat-obsessed Rossetti was so excited when we has expecting delivery of his new pet that he penned one of his worst poems.

Oh how the family affections combat
Within this heart, and each hour flings a bomb at
My burning soul! Neither from owl nor from bat
Can peace be gained until I clasp my wombat.

The wombat when it arrived was a great disappointment to everyone except Rossetti himself. Being nocturnal it slept all day, so Rossetti placed the dozing marsupial in the middle of the tea table for everyone to admire. Legend has that it provided the inspiration for the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland which also slept through teatime. If that is the case, then the wombat contributed more to human culture than the entire pre-Raphaelite movement.

Last time we visited I devoted a fair amount of time to the work of Evelyn De Morgan, a female pre-Raphaelite with more taste for naked female flesh (and better ability to paint it) than most of the male pre-Raphaelites. Nick pointed out that her beard William De Morgan did some interesting stuff, and indeed he did. Here’s one of his fish.
It’s clear that this fish has a rich inner life. It has friends, it has hobbies. Perhaps it plays the trombone or collects seashells. In other words it is a more developed character than can be found in the entire works of Burne-Jones, Hunt, and Millais put together. (You have to put them together because it’s impossible to tell them apart.)

De Morgan was good at birds, too.
Those birds are up to something. They’re probably planning to build a new city in the sky to interfere with satellite communications and screw up our view of the eclipse. They are either conspiring with the fish or planning a fish dinner.

This peacock is looking a bit insecure.
It’s wondering if fine feathers really do make fine birds.

This is a turkey with a hangover.
If you think it’s bad now, Mister Turkey, just wait till Thanksgiving.

Our praise for De Morgan cannot be uncritical. We must not overlook the ghastly genetic and surgical experiments he performed on his models. Here, for example, is the doduck, a cross between a dodo and a mallard.
It was an attempt to combine the trusting nature of the dodo with the flavor of the domestic duck. However the resulting chicks ran beak first into the nearest pond and drowned.

Then there was the bunny raptor.
Bunny Raptor
Part rabbit, part raptor because the world really needed lots of fast breeding scratchy bitey things. As a hybrid that’s right up there with the rutabaga. Luckily they broke into De Morgan’s snuff box, became hooked on nicotine and extinction followed shortly thereafter.

Flying lions?
Flying Lions
That’s aerodynamically unsound. The wing loading is ridiculous. All they can do is growl and flutter. Dante Gabriel Rossetti used one as a fan for a while but gave up on it when it tried to eat his wombat. The second attempt at a flying lion was no more successful.

Flying Lion 2
The increased wing size still did not allow prolonged flight, but it did allow them to escape from the De Morgan’s back garden into the pasture beyond, where they were nibbled to death by the first clutch of bunny raptors.

De Morgan began to stage gladiatorial combats between his engineered animals. After a lifetime of modeling in the potting shed most of them only knew how to pose and look gnarly, leaving De Morgan’s paying customers both disgusted and cheated. The vulture and the crocotoise.
Sure, yes, armour plated crocodiles, what could possibly go wrong?

The sphinx and the bunny raptor.
So that’s how the sphinx lost her nose.

The spirit of William De Morgan lives on the the Wightwick topiary, which features squirrels with exploding brains.
Exploding squirrel brains

4 thoughts on “The Island of Doctor De Morgan

  1. I think those topiaries are actually chickens with Easter bonnets…and what about the cats at Wightwick? Nary a mention so I will post on Facebook for your delectation. And then there was poor Simeon Solomon, the mentally ill, gay and Jewish pre-Raphaelite who died an alcoholic in the workhouse: “Solomon’s spectacular fall from grace happened in a public urinal off Oxford Street in 1873. His 60 year old partner was sentenced to 18 months hard labour.”

    1. There are half a dozen of Solomon’s drawings in the Honeysuckle bedroom, alongside one of Evelyn De Morgan’s nudes. Not only do Solomon’s portraits lack character or emotion, they also lack gender.

  2. I don’t know what they put in the tea at Wightwick Hall, but your posts from there have been drop-dead brilliant. Love the WTF expression on the Sphinx.

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