Photographs of Eric Gill and his sculpture

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

There are 145 photographs which document a wide range of Gill's work and life; some are inscribed in Gill's hand. Twenty-one of the images show the sculptor at work either in his studio or on site. These include a number of major commissions such as the 'Prospero and Ariel' sculpture for Broadcasting House, London, 1931-1933, the 'Christ giving sight to Bartimaeus' relief for Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, 1934, and the 'Creation' panel for the League of Nations, Geneva, 1936. Twenty-four photographs show carvings in progress in the studio revealing Gill's method of drawing on the blocks of stone and direct carving. There are twenty photographic portraits of Gill and members of his family showing the sculptor writing, contemplating and stripped to the waist; some of these were taken by the portrait photographer Howard Coster. The remaining seventy-eight photographs record finished works, including works that have been lost.

Administrative / Biographical History

Eric Gill was born in Brighton in 1882. He was the son of the Reverend Arthur Tidman Gill (1848–1933), a minister. Eric attended a local kindergarten and then Arnold House School in Hove. When the family moved to Chichester in 1897, Gill studied at Chichester Technical and Art School.

Between 1900 and 1904 Gill trained as an architect in the office of William Douglas Caroe (1857-1938), architect to the ecclesiastical commissioners. During this time he also took classes in masonry at Westminster Technical Institute and calligraphy at Central School of Arts and Crafts. From 1902 Gill shared rooms with Edward Johnson, his tutor in lettering and calligraphy at Central. In 1904 Gill gave up his pupillage and married Ethel Hester Moore (1878–1961) who he had met whilst a student in Chichester. After a brief period living in a small tenement flat in Battersea Bridge Buildings, Gill and his family took a house in Hammersmith. He was teaching at Central School and Paddington Institute and had already received a number of commissions, including one for lettering from a German client, Count Harry Kessler. Gill took on first apprentice, Joseph Cribb, at this time.

In 1907 Gill established his home and workshop in Ditchling, Sussex. After spending a short time as an apprentice to Aristide Maillol he returned to Sussex. In January 1911 Gill had his first solo exhibition of sculptures at the Chenil Gallery, Chelsea which was a critical success and led to further sales and commissions. In 1913, he converted to Catholicism and moved to Ditchling Common attracting other Catholic craft workers to settle nearby. This was later developed into The Guild of Saints Joseph and Dominic and had forty-one members by 1922. Meanwhile Gill continued to develop the stone carving side of his practice as well as his graphic work, particularly lettering and engraving. In 1915 Douglas (later Hilary) Pepler moved from Hammersmith to Ditchling Common and established St Dominic's Press. Over the next few years, Gill worked with Pepler contributing engravings and texts for the new private press. Towards the end of the First World War Gill worked as a driver in the RAF mechanical transport camp at Blandford, Dorset. In 1918 he took on Desmond Chute as an apprentice-assistant and they worked together until 1927.

In 1924 Gill resigned from the Guild of Saints Joseph and Dominic and moved to a former Benedictine monastery at Capel-y-ffin in the Black Mountains, Wales. Here he continued to carve, although the workshop facilities were small in comparison to Ditchling. Gill also began printing his own engravings and collaborated with Robert Gibbings, proprietor of the Golden Cockerel Press. Four years later, in 1928, Gill made his final move to Pigotts, near High Wycombe. This marked the beginning of his greatest critical and financial success. At Pigotts, Gill took on many more apprentices who worked in a more formal teacher-pupil relationship with him. These included: Donald Potter, Walter Ritchie, David Kindersley, Ralph Beyer and John Skelton. Gill's health declined during the 1930s and he died of cancer at Harefield Hospital, Uxbridge in 1940.

Conditions Governing Access

Available to all registered researchers. The Archive is open by appointment only.

Other Finding Aids

A finding aid is available for consultation in the HMI archive searchroom

Archivist's Note

Archives Hub entry completed by Katie Gilliland

Biographical information from '(Arthur) Eric Rowton Gill ARA, Hon ARIBA', Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_1207251323, accessed 19 Nov 2015]

Related Material

"Mother and Child", 1910 and 23 drawings are in the Leeds City Art Gallery collection.