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Landmark project sees new home for rare De Morgan vase

Published: 16 December 2019

A pioneering Derbyshire County Council project funded by the Museums Association will see new homes being found for up to 2,300 pieces of art and other objects of historical and archaeological interest.


De Morgan vase handover
Pictured following the handover of the vase at the De Morgan exhibition at Cannon Hall are Sarah Hardy, curator of the De Morgan Foundation and Bret Gaunt, assistant collections officer at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

The first item to be re-homed under the new project is a rare William De Morgan vase, which has been transferred by us to the De Morgan Foundation, an independent charity which owns, cares for and exhibits the De Morgan Collection.

William De Morgan is considered to be the most inventive and innovative designers of the arts and crafts movement.

The 3-handled vase, made in the 1880s, will be displayed as part of the De Morgan exhibition at Cannon Hall, near Barnsley, the ancestral home of William’s wife Evelyn De Morgan.

Since the vase came in to our possession, it has been a part of the Museums Loans Service collection, which came under the umbrella of our Schools Library Service (SLS).

The SLS closed last year and up to 2,300 objects, art works, archaeological and decorative pieces which made up the Museums Loans Service collection were taken to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery to be stored.

The museum does not have the space to house the objects in the long term and the majority of the pieces would not be suitable for display at the venue as they do not align with its other collections and themes.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery successfully applied to the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund (administered by the Museums Association) for a grant to fund a project to source appropriate homes for the pieces, with the main aim of keeping them in the public domain and on public display where at all possible.

The 18-month project is being seen as a test case by the Museums Association, and if successful it could be held up as a model of best practice in adhering to its code of ethics around dispersal of objects.

Derbyshire County Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Strategic Leadership, Culture and Tourism Councillor Barry Lewis said:

“This is an exciting and pioneering project for us to be involved in and we welcome the confidence the Museums Association has placed in us to get this right.

“For a long time museums have been nervous about the disposal of objects so this is an innovative project which will see items ranging from pieces of art to objects of historical, ethnographic and archaeological interest being re-homed in a transparent way, considering what is the best place for the object while ensuring it is not lost to the public where possible.

“In an ideal world we would keep and display all the items at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, but this just isn’t feasible or practical.

“Across the country, objects of great interest and in some cases great worth, are kept in cupboards, storage or in private collections, and one of the aims of this project is to try to ensure that doesn’t happen with the items in these collections.

“I’m delighted that the first step in this innovative project is to hand over the De Morgan vase, to what feels like its rightful home, where it will take its place in the De Morgan ancestral home as an important part of their exhibition.”

Sarah Hardy, curator-manager of the De Morgan Foundation said:

“We are very grateful to receive this vase and to be able to display it at Cannon Hall in the De Morgan Gallery.

“The De Morgan 3-handled vase is not one I have seen before, it is a very rare example of his interest in decorating unusual and ambitious surfaces.

“Moreover, it is stamped with his pottery stamp ‘Merton Abbey’, so we can date it to 1882 to 1888, a time when De Morgan has enough staff to throw pots to his specification, meaning the 3 handles were his idea.”

Museums Association Collections Development Officer Sarah Briggs said:

“We’re really excited to see such positive results from this Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund project so early on, the team have really hit the ground running.

“This transfer demonstrates the value of undertaking this sort of collections work and this beautiful piece will almost certainly be seen by more people as a result.”