eric gill Thoughts on lettering

Eric Gill: artist and abuser

I have written at some length on this blog over the years about the man known as Eric Gill. [See here and here and here for example – there are others too.] I am motivated to add to the already swollen record by an article in The Observer of London by Rachel Cook headlined Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser? I recommend you follow this link and read the (very long) essay.

To clear up one point. Cooke writes: ‘Eric Gill, long dead and widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century…’.

Who considers this statement to be true? What is the source for this assertion? Gill was and never will be considered ‘one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century’. In my opinion, Gill was a sculptor of repetitive talents; however, Gill was a fine letter-carver and useful typographer.

He was also a paedophile, as I have stated in the past. My conflict is that I was heavily influenced by his work as a stonemason, letter-carver and for a long period of time actually sourced his material and went on a sort of pilgrimage to Pigotts [see here].

I will not be able to visit the new exhibition at Ditchling – for those in the UK who can please do and please comment here on your thoughts/reactions. Many artists, perhaps the majority, do, as one observes at the end of Cooke’s essay, have a  ‘…libidinous drive…’ and this charges their work – think of Lucian Freud for instance. But this is no excuse for the man Gill.

In Gill’s singular case I argue that, no, it is not possible to separate artist from abuser, neither should we. Yes, there needs to be full transparency in the Ditchling exhibition; and yes, young adults, do need to be told of his incestuous relationships and be told his daughters, and others, were victims (please don’t dodge this by using the politically correct ‘those who experienced abuse’) of his abuse.

Your comments welcome.

printing Thoughts on lettering

Definition of printing…(and a note on Joanna)…


…’the art of making dents in paper or other impressible paper.’

So wrote Eric Gill in ‘A Glossary of Terms Relating to Printing’, 1934 – set in Joanna and part of A Specimen of Three Book Types.

For some more terms enlarge this page.

Regarding Joanna. Designed 1930 and cut by HW Caslon. Used by Hague and Gill at their press until the Aldine Press, Letchworth, UK, obtained the right to use it, because Gill needed the money. It was used in the Aldine Bible between 1934-1936. In 1939 the face was made available to Monotype, series 478. The face was named after Gill’s youngest daughter who had married Rene Hague, partner in Hague and Gill printers, based in a barn at Pigotts, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. [From The Monotype Recorder, 41, 3, 1958; Book Design and Production, 1,3, 1958.)

Illustration showing Gill’s drawing for Joanna italic (1930 and 1931).


eric gill

Howard Coster’s portrait photograph of Eric Gill and Eric Gill’s pencil sketch of Howard Coster

About Howard Coster (1885-1959) I am unable to reveal much, other than a cursory look on the world’s favourite search engine reveals little, save that he was prominent in the 1920s and 1930s and London’s National Portrait Gallery had a retrospective of his work in the 1980s. Perhaps someone has a catalogue from that show and can help flesh out this man’s life?

What of his picture of Gill, which I found by chance in volume 39 of Penrose (1937), a volume I have used as the basis for a number of previous blogs. The picture was taken in 1927, and is a bromide print, hence the sepia tone. Gill is in characteristic pose, puffing on one of the fags that would kill him at the early age of 58. (I am 55 so mindful of mortality, though I no longer smoke.) In 1927 Gill was living all over the place, chiefly Salies-de-Bearn in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Paris and Chelsea, where perhaps this photo was taken, while his family stayed at Capel-y-ffin, that remote village in Wales that proved not such a good idea. Anyhow, Gill’s travels gave him plenty opportunity to chase the flesh.

I don’t think it’s a great photo, for Gill is so much the poseur that we do not get (as we do from a truly great photo) an idea of the person behind the mask. How much more fun if Gill had posed for Coster naked – a bit of a Stanley Spencer or a Lucian Freud. We can’t see his eyes either but we can tell that he is right handed.

I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery for permission to use the Gill drawing, downloaded for free from their website.