Mary Evelyn De Morgan, née Pickering, was a late-Victorian artist who lived and worked in a period marked by cataclysmic changes. Born mid-century in an England ruled over by Queen Victoria, she lived to see a series of changes climaxing in 1914 with the collapse of established world order. It was amidst this atmosphere of increasing uncertainty and anxiety that De Morgan came to maturity and developed her personal and artistic philosophies. Throughout her career as a painter, she used literary allusion and allegory to express her strongly held views on contemporary spiritual, social and moral issues.
Despite initial parental disapproval of her chosen career, Evelyn was a privileged woman. She enjoyed an upper-class lifestyle in London; excellent home education; instruction at the South Kensington National Art Training School (1872) and at the Slade School of Art (1873-76) under Edward J. Poynter. She had the artistic as well as moral support of her uncle, the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908). These advantages, when combined with Evelyn’s prodigious talent and early decision to devote her life to art, moulded a temperament that was confident and not easily deterred by obstacles such as familial apathy, the condescension of male artists and critics, and lack of robust patronage.
After leaving the Slade to pursue an independent course of study in Italy, she returned to London to begin her career as an active painter and exhibitor. Evelyn first exhibited her work at the Dudley Gallery in 1876 with her painting St. Catherine of Alexandria (1873/5). Following this, she was one of the few female artists invited to be an exhibitor at the new Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 where her painting Ariadne in Naxos (1877) was displayed in the company of works by Spencer Stanhope, Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederick Watts.