Line engraving on paper, edition 12/70
Image size: 8 x 8 1/2 inches (20.25 x 22 cm)
Beaux Arts Gallery, April 1929.
Apollo Magazine, Volume XIII, no 71, November 1930, p.376.
Royal Academy of Art, 1929 (1093)
Aberystywth University, Georgetown University, British Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
This work by Morgan illustrates the tale of Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa, a creature feared for her ability to turn living men to stone. The myth of Perseus and Medusa is one of the best known tales in Greek Mythology and here we see the nude figure of Perseus, seated and holding a sword. The severed head of Medusa sits on a tree-stump in front of him.
The focus point of this engraving is the mythological hero Perseus and our attention is drawn to the sweep of Perseus’s idealised body as he rests his body weight behind him on one arm.
William E C Morgan was an etcher, painter and teacher. He was born in London in 1903, the son of a school master. It is for his copper-plate line engravings of landscapes, animals and mythological subjects made between 1925 and 1931 that he is nowadays best remembered.
He was educated at St Dunstan’s College where the art master was Slade-trained Alfred Carter. In 1922, at the age of 17, he attended Camberwell School of Art to study under Albert Rutherston. He later transferred to the Slade School of Art to study under Professor Henry Tonks. In 1923 Morgan took up the, then popular, craft of wood engraving. Self taught, he worked at home in the evenings – inspired by the prints of William Blake. In the autumn that year, Tonks suggested that Morgan enter the Rome Scholarship in Engraving. Morgan was shortlisted along with two students of Goldsmiths’ College, Graham Sutherland and Edward Bouverie Hoyton. The prints of short-listed entrants were displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts. Morgan won the Scholarship worth £250 a year.
The scholarship allowed Morgan to travel extensively in Italy – in Tuscany, Umbria, Aquila and the Abruzzi. Returning to England in 1928, Morgan, Skeaping and Hepworth exhibited together at the Beaux Arts Gallery, Bruton Place, New Bond Street, London. The Gallery continued to represent Morgan and publish his prints. Back in the UK, Morgan settled in Cornwall where he made intaglio prints drawn from his time in Italy.
In his 1928 article on Morgan’s engravings for Artwork magazine, Hugh Stokes described the manifold opportunities that existed for collectors of present-day etchings, and the excitement of a ‘quest for new genius’. Though he felt that Morgan’s art was ‘derivative and imitative’, he was evolving a ‘distinct personality’. He considered the etched lines of Anticoli and Saracinesco to be ‘stiff and determined’ and ‘hard and unrelenting’. The ‘gloomy cross-hatching’, he pointed out, was also to be seen in the prints of Edward Bouverie Hoyton and in the ‘drawings of the whole school’.
He exhibited prints both in London and Chicago. Following the collapse of the fine art print market in the depression, he moved to Argyll, Scotland, in 1932, taking up teaching, painting and continuing printmaking until failing eyesight in 1938 brought an end to this aspect of his career.
He returned to England to teach at Harrow School of Art. During WWII he worked for the Camouflage Unit and afterwards for the British Rural Industries Bureau until retirement in 1968. He then moved to Switzerland and died there in 1979.
A retrospective exhibition of his prints, from the between wars period, was held at the Fairchild Memorial Gallery, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.in 1994. His work is held in the National Gallery of Art, Washington as well as the British Museum.