Eric Gill

St Sebastian

1920

On display at Tate Britain

Artist
Eric Gill 1882–1940
Medium
Hoptonwood stone
Dimensions
Object: 1005 x 202 x 247 mm, 55.6 kg
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983
Reference
T03745

Display caption

St Sebastian miraculously survived the arrows intended to kill him as punishment for his Christian faith. He had long been a favourite vehicle for the depiction of the male nude. This work was commissioned from Gill, who was a Roman Catholic, by Marc-André Raffalovich, a friend of Oscar Wilde. Though Gill does not include the arrows, thus emphasising the relaxed sensuality of the saint’s languid pose, the sculpture also recalls a memorial monument. Heroic nudes were common on war memorials of the 1920s and the theme of St Sebastian might seem a fitting symbol for the more recent martyrdom of the war dead.

Gallery label, September 2016

Catalogue entry

T03745 St Sebastian 1920

Portland stone 41 × 8 × 10 (1040 × 202 × 254)
Not inscribed
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Commissioned from the artist by André Raffalovich, 1919; bequeathed by him in 1934 to Rev. Canon John Gray, who presented it in the same year to the Victoria and Albert Museum, in memory of A. Raffalovich (A. 10–1934)
Exh: British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, part I, Whitechapel Art Gallery, September–November 1981 (95)
Lit: Walter Shewring, ed., Letters of Eric Gill, 1947, p.138; Peter F. Anson, ‘Random Reminiscences of John Gray and André Raffalovich’, in Brocard Sewell, ed., Two Friends, John Gray and André Raffalovich, 1963; Robert Speaight, The Life of Eric Gill, 1966, p.73; Malcolm Yorke, Eric Gill, 1981, p.215
Also repr: J.K.M. Rothenstein, Eric Gill, 1927, plate 20 (two views)

André Raffalovich (1864–1934) commissioned several sculptures, a book plate and a portrait drawing of himself from Eric Gill. They first met in Edinburgh, where Raffalovich lived, in 1914, and maintained contact through Canon John Gray, who often visited Gill in Buckinghamshire. The artist's diaries record work on this sculpture in March and April 1920 (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles).

Gill's letter to Raffalovich of 16 June 1920 thanks him for letting him know that the sculpture had arrived, and he explains that it was made after a study of his own body in a mirror. Peter Anson (op.cit.) records being shown it when it first arrived in Edinburgh. It is likely that the subject was given by Raffalovich, but it is not recorded as a design for a particular setting.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986