Boston College collection of Eric Gill
- 1896 - 1983
- Majority of material found within 1916 - 1940
Scope and Contents
The Eric Gill collection consists of original artwork, art reproductions, publications, correspondence, and ephemera. The majority of material relates to Gill's career as a letter-cutter and artist, and the bulk of the collection is artwork. Included are engravings, lettering designs, pencil sketches, photographs, prints, rubbings of headstones and other carvings, sculptures, a stone tablet, and woodcut printing blocks. Publications include works by and about Gill, exhibit announcements and catalogs, and items from presses with which Gill was associated. Correspondence between Gill, his family, and his friends is relatively minimal. Ephemera consists of items related to St. Dominic’s Press. There is also music written by Gill.
This collection has research significance for the study of sculpture, typography, Catholicism, and social politics in the early twentieth century, and the Arts and Crafts movement. Descriptions of some artworks are accompanied by a “Physick” number (P#), designated by John Physick in his catalog of Gill’s art for the Victoria and Albert Museum.
- Gill, Eric, 1882-1940 (Person)
Restrictions on access
Collection is open for research.
Restrictions on use
These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.
Eric Gill was born in Brighton, Sussex on February 22, 1882. His father, the Reverend Arthur Tidman Gill, had recently left the congregational church to join Calvinist Methodist Connexion Church as a minister. Gill’s mother, (Cicely) Rose King, had been a professional light opera singer before her marriage. The family moved to Chichester in 1897, by which time Gill’s father had joined the Anglican Church. Gill enrolled at the Chichester Technical and Art School, where he won a prize for technical drawing and met his future wife, Ethel Hester Moore.
In 1900, Gill moved to London to train as an architect but found the profession staid and the experience frustrating. After discovering a passion for calligraphy during evening classes at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, Gill embarked on a career in letter cutting and monumental masonry. He married Ethel in 1904. Gill became quite well-known in London art circles, especially among the more radical and politically-minded groups such as The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and The Art Worker’s Guild. He was an active member of the Fabian Society. However, he remained an outsider figure in these groups and in 1907 he and his family relocated to the countryside, settling in the village of Ditchling, Sussex.
During his early years at Ditchling, Gill began to work regularly with stone as a sculptor and became involved with the group of artists associated with Jacob Epstein and Augustus John. In January 1911 Gill had his first solo exhibition of stone carvings at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea, which was well received and led to a number of commissions. However, Gill was dissatisfied with his success, seeing it as a corruption of his artistic ideals. After converting to Roman Catholicism, Gill moved his family to Ditchling Common, where he aimed to live self-sufficiently on the farmland attached to his new home.
Gill received a number of major commissions, one of which was for the stone Stations of the Cross at Westminster Cathedral. Gill, along with his apprentice, Desmond Chute, became lay members of the Dominican Order and Gill’s increasing fame helped to attract similarly-minded Catholics to Ditchling Common, where a Catholic craft community developed. Gill left Ditchling with his family suddenly, and rather acrimoniously, after a dispute over guild finances and his resentment of the relationship between his daughter Betty and David Pepler, the son of his friend Hilary Pepler.
From 1924 to 1928, the Gills lived in Capel-y-ffin in the Welsh Black Mountains. It was during this period that Gill designed the typefaces for which he is most remembered: Perpetua, Gill Sans Serif, and Solus. Gill Sans Serif, in particular, had an enormous impact on the development of modern typography. In 1928, the Gills moved to Piggots, five miles from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. There Gill took on a number of large-scale sculptural jobs, including a series of carvings produced for Broadcasting House, the BBC’s headquarters in London.
In the 1930s Gill produced a steady stream of books, including: Art and a Changing Civilization (1934), Money and Morals (1934), Work and Leisure (1935), The Necessity of Belief (1936), and Work and Property (1937). Gill’s art had always been controversial, and his representations of sex and the interplay of religion and sexuality caused some outcry. His sculpture of Shakespeare’s Prospero and Ariel at Broadcasting House elicited multiple complaints from the public. Gill’s writing hinted at some of his more outré philosophies, but the revelation in the 1980s of his complicated, adulterous, and incestuous relationships instigated a critical reassessment of Gill’s life and work.
Gill died in Uxbridge on November 17, 1940, from lung cancer after suffering years of declining health. His funeral Mass was held in Piggots before his burial in Speen. Gill’s final works were his autobiography, completed in the summer of 1940, and his unfinished stone altarpiece for Westminster Cathedral, which was finally set in place in 1947.
Brady, Elizabeth A. Eric Gill: Twentieth Century Book Designer. New York: The Scarecrow Press, 1962.
"Eric Gill." In Encyclopædia Britannica Online, February 25, 2013. Encyclopædia Britannica (Accessed April 3, 2020).
MacCarthy, Fiona. Eric Gill: A Lover’s Quest for Art and God. New York: Dutton, 1989.
MacCarthy, Fiona. “Gill (Arthur), Eric Rownton,(1822 – 1940)” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 -. Accessed October 3, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/33403.
12.75 Linear Feet (29 containers)
Language of Materials
The Eric Gill collection includes sketches, drawings, and engravings by Gill, as well as publications, ephemera, and some correspondence. There are also several woodcut printing blocks, a stone tablet and a plaster block, and rubbings of stone carvings.
The collection is arranged in five series: I. Original artwork; II. Art reproductions; III. Publications; IV. Correspondence; V. Ephemera.
Series I. Original artwork is divided into six subseries: A. Engravings; B. Pencil sketches; C. Rubbings; D. Other artwork; E. Artifacts; F. Artwork by others.
Series II. Art reproductions is divided into three subseries: A. St. Dominic's Press publications; B. Other publications; C. Miscellaneous reproductions.
Series III. Publications is divided into four subseries: A. By Gill; B. About Gill; C. Exhibit announcements and catalogs; D. General publications.
Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time. The woodblock print for Sculpture and Gill's copyof the book were a gift of Richard G. O'Brien sometime after 1981.
Books related to this collection are cataloged separately, and may be found by searching for the local collection name Gill in the library catalog.
- Gill, Eric, 1882-1940 (Person)
- O'Brien, Richard Green, 1924-1992 (Person)
- Black Sun Books (Organization)
- Taurus Books (Firm) (Organization)
- Boston College Collection of Eric Gill
- 1896-1983 (bulk 1916-1940)
- Jillaire McMillan
- August 2000
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository
John J. Burns Library
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States