Evelyn Pickering knew at a very early age that she wanted to be an artist.
At a point in the mid-19th Century when it was possible, but still not entirely acceptable, for women to do so, she convinced her parents to allow her to attend art school. She enrolled at the Slade School of Art in London, which had only been established two years earlier in 1871. The school’s principal was Sir John Edward Poynter, and the young Pickering was trained in his classical style.
She was also influenced greatly by her uncle, Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Her visits to him in Florence exposed her to Sandro Botticelli and his contemporaries, and she would show that influence through her career (as you can see in her depiction of Flora).
She gradually moved away from classicism and into the allegorical style that would put her in the retro-avant-garde milieu of the Pre-Raphaelites. She was one of the first exhibitors at the Grosvenor Gallery, along with Edward Byrne-Jones, George Frederick Watts and Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. Like Marie Spartelli Stillman, she became a follower Byrne-Jones, who was one of the major figures of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and was also deeply influenced by the work of Botticelli.
When she was 32, Pickering married ceramicist William De Morgan. They became involved not only in art but social issues of the day including women’s suffrage, prison reform, pacifism and spiritualism (hey, just a couple of crazy hippies from the 1800’s). There is a De Morgan Centre in London, dedicated to the study of 19th Century art and society, built around their lives and work.
Her paintings share the Pre-Raphaelite characteristics of a refined, richly detailed style in the portrayal of literary and allegorical subjects. The image shown here, Queen Elanor and Fair Rosamund, portrays a colorful legend, contradicted by the real histories, of Henry II’s queen finding her way, by use of a spool of thread, through a maze constructed by the King to protect his mistress, in order to kill her.