Eric Gill
public and private art

10 February –
7 August 2011

Exhibition closed

Room 69a  

This small display explores the range of work by sculptor, letter cutter, engraver and typographer Eric Gill by contrasting his public commissions with his private art.

Eric Gill (1882–1940) is one of the most famous British artists of the early 20th-century. His work is widely known, from his typefaces (including the famous Gill Sans) to his sculptural work, such as the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral. This exhibition features designs Gill created in response to public commissions for sculpture, coins, stamps, seals and medals alongside his private work as a wood engraver, book illustrator
and writer.

The objects in the exhibition highlight key areas of Gill’s life as an artist and attempt to explain his unique and complex political and religious ideals. He regularly explored the themes of religion (Gill was a devout Roman Catholic), sex and politics, and often incorporated hidden subversive messages in his public work. His art reflects the political and cultural movements which engaged British artists in the first half of the 20th century, from the Arts and Crafts movement and Fabian socialism to a the revival of Roman Catholicism.

The exhibition features work by Gill intended for
both public use and private delight, including stamp designs for the Post Office, coin designs for the Royal Mint, drawings for the Stations of the Cross, and his own engravings and publications on religion, politics and art. The centrepiece of the display is his famous sculpture Divine Lovers, on loan from Ditchling Museum in East Sussex. The display also examines Gill’s work on the British Museum building itself, including the war memorial at the main entrance.

The display concentrates attention on Gill’s art and ideas, rather than focusing on the sensational aspects of his private life which have become dominant in recent years. The showcasing of both Gill’s private work and his little-known public commissions deals with the entwining complexities of his art, life and ideals, and the contradictions that often emerged.

You can find out more about Eric Gill with this new introduction to his life and work, published by the British Museum Press.

Eric Gill, £9.99. By Ruth Cribb and Joe Cribb


Images from top: Self-portrait medal depicting Eric Gill. Engraved by George Friend, about 1933. © reserved.

Proof for a one shilling coin by Eric Gill, 1925.
© The Royal Mint.

Air Raid Precaution Badge, Eric Gill, 1939.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.