An exhibition reaches hopefully towards the end of the rainbow. Pre-Raphaelite Artist of Hope displays Evelyn De Morgan’s symbolic paintings alongside contemporary stories from those who have lived through warfare and from NHS staff who have served on the frontline during the pandemic. It has been curated with the help of community partners including Blind Veterans UK, Child Action North West, local Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, and nurses from Royal Blackburn Hospital. 

Their voices are heard against the deeply symbolic First World War paintings of iconic artist Evelyn De Morgan (1855 – 1919). The exhibition explores the way De Morgan’s work presented profound fears and heartfelt hope that better days would come. Syrian refugees living in Lancashire and Second World War veterans have shared their experiences of living through war which bring these pictures to life. There will be an audio guide available in English and Arabic to hear their stories by scanning the pictures with your phone camera through the app Smartify.

De Morgan was an artist who always had hope. She painted until her death in 1919, when it was other global crises - Spanish Flu and the First World War - that held the World in a vice-like-grip. Defying the conventions of the deeply conservative Victorian society she was raised in, she dared to be different and studied at the prestigious Slade School of Art, before being invited to exhibit at the exclusive Grosvenor Gallery when she was just 20 years old. This was an astonishing achievement for a woman at the time. Her hope for a feminist future is highlighted in the paintings on display in the exhibition.

De Morgan knew the pain of loss and grief. She lived through the Boer Wars and First World War, and was horrified at the mechanised killing and destruction. Motivated to use the power of her brush to spread a pacifist message of hope, she was possessed of a strong belief that art should have a moral purpose. She fashioned an artistic response to war using deliberate symbolism rather than realism, so her paintings are relatable today.

Hopeful symbols we recognise – rainbows, light, dawn – make De Morgan’s paintings relevant to our shared experience of navigating the pandemic.

“That hope and strength has been given to us by the loving support of the public. Their use of rainbows to show their support to the NHS and its workers has boosted morale and provided encouragement when needed most.”. Vicky Ramsden, Ward Manager, Royal Blackburn Hospital

To say thank you to our NHS heroes they will be able to enjoy free entry throughout the show.

45 works have been lent by the De Morgan Collection for the exhibition in Lancashire for the first time. Some of De Morgan’s stunning sketches are on display which bring her working process to life and allow us to get a glimpse of how she made the paintings. The paintings include De Morgan’s striking oil on canvas Night and Sleep recently shown at the National Portrait Gallery’s blockbuster Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition and Our Lady of Peace which has undergone specialist conservation to be included in this show. Towneley Hall’s own mysterious painting Destiny by John William Waterhouse is also on display as it was painted for the artist’s war fund, and a sketch for The Golden Stairs by Edward Burne-Jones is included to showcase De Morgan’s Pre-Raphaelite contemporaries. This exhibition will help us to discover hope as society recovers from a pandemic which brought isolation and fear.


‘De Morgan’s works could have been painted in response to the pandemic. S.O.S. is one painting in particular that resonates so profoundly with our collective experience of needing hope in the face of crisis. It depicts a woman in white robes reaching out towards a rainbow, while demons snap at her ankles. De Morgan used the demons to represent the First World War, but today we can see those demons as the pandemic, and the woman as all of us reaching towards the rainbow’. 

Sarah Hardy, Curator, The De Morgan Foundation

‘We are delighted to bring the work of an inspirational female artist from an exclusive collection to Towneley Hall. Due to traditional collecting of male artists, only 3% of Towneley’s vast collection is by a female artist so this exhibition helps reset the balance.’

Alison Cooper, Towneley Hall

‘Arts and crafts have played such an important role in the rehabilitation of our veterans from the First World War to the present day so we are delighted to be involved with the exhibition. After the last year and a half I am sure people will be inspired by the hope represented not only in the magnificent art but also our veterans’ stories.’

Blind Veterans UK CEO, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB 

‘The art work in the exhibition is inspirational and hopeful and involving the young people we support will provide a focus to show how in even the most difficult of times there is always hope and that we can all overcome difficulties to achieve amazing things.  We are so proud to be involved in such a positive exhibition and the opportunities it provides to young people who have been so adversely affected by the pandemic.’

Sue Cotton, Chief Executive Officer, Child Action North West

‘Art can provide a great medium to allow people to recognise and express their emotions. Just like grief, the interpretation of art will be unique for each individual, seeing ‘in’ the artwork what is thought provoking to them.’ 

Tracy Shutt, Operations Manager, Cruse Bereavement Care

Full list of community partners

- Blind Veterans UK, the charity that provides lifelong support to veterans with severe sight loss, are ensuring the exhibition is accessible to those with a disability. Further to this, a number of their beneficiaries have provided their story of ‘war and hope’, to be displayed alongside the art at the exhibition. If you or someone you know is entitled to Blind Veterans UK’s free support then please call 0800 389 7979 or visit

- Burnley High School 

- Child Action North West is a charity with a Big Heart.

The work we do helps to strengthen individuals, families and communities so that children and young people can lead healthy and meaningful lives, with the opportunity to succeed in school, grow up to enjoy healthy relationships, to have access to training and employment opportunities and to be successful.

- Cruse Bereavement Care is the leading national charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Cruse offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies, and works to enhance societies care of bereaved people. Cruse offers telephone and website support and, until Covid-19, had been providing face to face support for 60 years.  It has a free National Helpline (0808 808 1677), local services, an online chat service, and a website specifically for children and young people called Hope Again. Its services are provided by trained volunteers and are confidential and free.  Cruse also provides training and consultancy for external organisations and for those who may encounter bereaved people in the course of their work. 

- Staff working on the Acute Stroke Ward at Royal Blackburn Hospital

- Syrian refugees living in Lancashire supported by Lancashire County Council.


Evelyn De Morgan: Pre-Raphaelite Artist of Hope
Evelyn De Morgan: Pre-Raphaelite Artist of Hope

This beautiful exhibition of Evelyn De Morgan’s paintings looks beyond crisis towards brighter days ahead.

Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum
Arts, Crafts & Galleries
Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum

This 14th century grade 1 listed hall has a rich history with many stories to tell, with grand period rooms decorated with oil paintings and sculptures covering several centuries of life at the hall which was the home of the Towneley family for over 600 years.



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