Eric Gill

The North Wind


Eric Gill 1882–1940
Bath stone
Object: 254 × 698 × 101 mm
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983

Display caption

Gill pioneered a return to traditional craft skills, in particular stone carving. In 1928 he led a team of sculptors commissioned to carve reliefs symbolising the four winds for the exterior of the new London Underground headquarters at St James’s Park station. These are copies he made later. The style of the reliefs demonstrates Gill’s admiration for English and French medieval sculpture.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry

T03737 The North Wind 1929

Portland stone 10 × 27 1/2 × 4 (254 × 698 × 101)
Not inscribed
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Frank Pick; presented by Mrs Frank Pick to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1942, (A. 10–1942)
Exh: The Goupil Gallery Salon, 1929 (192, as ‘South Wind (Original Design in stone for the Underground Railway Building)’); Eric Gill, Dartington Cider Press Centre, Dartington, July–August 1979, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, October–November 1979; Strict Delight, the Life and Work of Eric Gill, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, March–April 1980 (S 13); British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, part 1, Whitechapel Art Gallery, September–November 1981 (132).
Lit: Oliver Bernard, ‘Tunnelling and Skyscraping’, The Studio, XCVIII, 1929, pp.556–8; ‘Sculpture. The Temple of the Winds’, The Architectural Review, LXVI, November 1929, pp.240–1; Kineton Parkes, The Art of Carved Sculpture, 1, 1931, pp.80–9; Kineton Parkes, ‘The Work of Eric Gill’, Design and Construction, V, April 1935, pp.185–7; Walter Shewring, ed., Letters of Eric Gill, 1947, p.242; Robert Speaight, The Life of Eric Gill, 1966, p.203; Denis Farr, English Art 1870–1940, 1978, p.251; Malcolm Yorke, Eric Gill, 1981, pp.228–9; Richard Cork, ‘Overhead Sculpture for the Underground Railway’, British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, ed. S. Nairne and N. Serota, 1981, pp.91–101; Richard Cork, Art Beyond the Gallery in Early 20th Century England, 1985, pp.249–96

‘The North Wind’ and ‘The East Wind’ (N04487) were carved by Gill after his designs for large reliefs in Portland stone on the London Underground Headquarters building in Broadway, Westminster. The history is described by Richard Cork in Art Beyond the Gallery in Early 20th Century England (1985, op.cit.)

It has been thought that these two carvings were models for two of the three full size reliefs which were made by Gill. His diaries record however that both were begun and completed in October 1929 some time after the building had been finished, and immediately before he exhibited them at the Goupil Gallery (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles). Gill did make models for the reliefs, but these are not known to survive. The sequence of events given by his diary is:

22, 30 March 1928. Drawings for the designs.
9 June. Designs for North, South and East winds.
10–13 July. Carves a model for the sculptures.
18 September. Stone delivered to his house, Pigotts.
13–30 October. Draws sculptures on stone and sends off the stone.
13, 15–17 and 19 November. Draws on stone and makes models, at Piggotts.
20 November–8 February 1929. Carves full size sculptures in London.
11–21 October. Carves ‘South Wind’. (T 03737)
21–26 October. Carves ‘East Wind’. (N 04487)
29 October. Delivers ‘Winds’ to Goupil Gallery.

The design of the building by Charles Holden was cross shaped in plan, with wings at North, South, East and West. The relief sculptures were sited above the eighth floor, and were intended to make reference to the ancient Greek ‘Tower of the Winds’ in Athens, with two carved reliefs for each wind, each flying outwards from the centre. Gill made three of these, and was in charge of the five assistant sculptors, including Henry Moore, each of whom made one each. The reliefs are all generally similar, and it is not clear whether it was Gill or someone else who specified the type of figures wanted, although they generally depend on the Greek reliefs of the first century B C. ‘The Tower of the Winds’ at the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford which has similar relief sculpture is a probable more immediate source.

The sequence of events also leaves unclear the function of the preparatory models made by Gill in July and in November 1928, and the size and function of the stone that he drew on in October 1928. The two small reliefs at the Tate Gallery are exact copies of the large sculptures, except that ‘The North Wind’ is in reverse. Richard Cork (op.cit.) published photographs of the designs drawn by Gill on 9 June 1928 (collection of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles). One of these is for ‘The North Wind’ in the same direction as the final sculpture, but is inscribed by Gill ‘figure reversed’ and ‘Make model 1/4 fs’. The size of the Tate Gallery reliefs is approximately one quarter full size. Evidently when making them for the Goupil Gallery exhibition in October 1929 he used as a guide either the earlier drawings or models, before the placing of his design had been finally determined. It is possible that the ‘models’ made in November 1928 were of clay, and the two stone reliefs in the Tate Gallery were precise copies of them. If the North and South Winds by Gill on the building had been interchanged and reversed, then each representation of each of them by the various artists would have been consistent as to sex - the North and East female, and the West and South male.

In his letter to Graham Carey of 2 December 1928 (Walter Shewring, ed., loc.cit.) Gill refers to the commission slightingly, because of the sculptors' dependence on the architecture, the short time in which he had to work and the different attitude to art of the builders.

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


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