In Tate Britain

In Tate Britain

Biography

Arthur Eric Rowton Gill, (22 February 1882 – 17 November 1940) was an English sculptor, letter cutter, typeface designer, and printmaker. Although the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes Gill as ″the greatest artist-craftsman of the twentieth century: a letter-cutter and type designer of genius″, he remains a figure of considerable controversy following revelations of his sexual abuse of two of his daughters.

Gill was born in Brighton and grew up in Chichester, where he attended the local college before moving to London. There he became an apprentice with a firm of ecclesiastical architects and took evening classes in stone masonry and calligraphy. Gill abandoned his architectural training and set up a business cutting memorial inscriptions for buildings and headstones. He also began designing chapter headings and title pages for books.

As a young man, Gill was a member of the Fabian Society, but later resigned. Initially identifying with the Arts and Crafts Movement by 1907 he was lecturing and campaigning against the movement's perceived failings. He became a Roman Catholic in 1913 and remained so for the rest of his life. Gill established a succession of craft communities, each with a chapel at its centre and with an emphasis on manual labour as opposed to more modern industrial methods. The first of these communities was at Ditchling in Sussex where Gill established the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic for Catholic craftsmen. Many members of the Guild, including Gill, were also members of the Third Order of St. Dominic, a lay division of the Dominican Order. At Ditchling Gill, and his assistants, created several notable war memorials including those at Chirk in north Wales and at Trumpington near Cambridge along with numerous works on religious subjects.

In 1924, the Gill family left Ditchling and moved to an isolated, disused monastery at Capel-y-ffin in the Black Mountains of Wales. The isolation of Capel-y-ffin suited Gill's wish to distance himself from what he regarded as an increasingly secular and industrialised society and his time there proved to be among the most productive of his artistic career. At Capel, Gill made the sculptures The Sleeping Christ (1925), Deposition (1925) and Mankind (1927). He created engravings for a series of books published by the Golden Cockerel Press, considered among the finest of their kind, and it was at Capel that he designed the typefaces Perpetua, Gill Sans and Solus. After four years at Capel, Gill and his family moved into a quadrangle of properties at Speen in Buckinghamshire. From there, in the last decade of his life Gill became an architectural sculptor of some fame, creating large, high profile, works for central London buildings including both the headquarters of the BBC and the forerunner of London Underground. His mammoth frieze, The Creation of Man, was the British Governments' gift to new League of Nations building in Geneva. Despite failing health Gill was active as a sculptor until the last weeks of his life, leaving several works to be completed by his assistants after his death.

Gill was a prolific writer on religious and social matters, with some 300 printed works including books and pamphlets to his name. He frequently courted controversy with his opposition to industrialisation, modern commerce and the use of machinery in both the home and workplace. In the years preceding World War II, he embraced pacifism and left-wing causes.

Gill's religious beliefs did not limit his sexual activity, which included several extramarital affairs. His religious views and subject matter contrast with his deviant sexual behaviour, including, as described in his personal diaries, his sexual abuse of his daughters, an incestuous relationship with at least one of his sisters and sexual experiments with his dog. Since these revelations became public in 1989, there have been a number of calls for works by Gill to be removed from public buildings and art collections.

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Artworks

Artist as subject

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