De Morgan derived her inspiration for this drawing from the Gospel of St John, Chapter 1 Verse 5. This follows the story of creation and the emergence of God from nothingness, reflecting on the triumph of light against darkness. Christian doctrine is clearly present in many of De Morgan’s works (see lot 8), and several of her paintings employ biblical titles and themes. From around 1910 her paintings show a shift into the use of more ambiguous spiritual imagery. De Morgan’s mother-in-law, Sophia De Morgan, was a Spiritualist who had a profound influence on the artist’s personal beliefs and style; particularly in her later career.
This drawing shows a heavenly figure of light exquisitely rendered in a blaze of gold. She is holding a lamp in her left hand, whilst showing the sign of benediction in her right. Rays of light radiate out to fill the whole composition, brightening the dark landscape and illuminating snakes and reptiles who lurk below in the gloom. This work relates to De Morgan’s 1895 oil painting Lux in Tenebris, (fig. 1, De Morgan Foundation) whose title also derives from the Gospel of St John. In Lux in Tenebris, the heavenly central figure is dressed elaborately in gold and holds a laurel branch, whilst two crocodiles circle below. In 1906 De Morgan also painted another oil titled The light shineth in the darkness… (fig. 2, De Morgan Foundation) featuring a similar composition, but instead of reptiles at the angel's feet there lie three naked figures, shackled to rocks and blinded by despair.
Though De Morgan exhibited and was known as an oil painter, she used gold drawing on dark paper throughout her career. There are fourteen known works in this medium. The contrast between the black paper and gold paint makes these jewel-like pictures singular within her oeuvre. Sarah Hardy posits that these gold pictures were intended as stand alone works to be exhibited and sold in their own right, and not as preparatory studies for her larger oils.
We are grateful to Sarah Hardy, curator of The De Morgan Foundation, for her assistance in cataloguing this work.