In 1897 the family moved to Chichester. Gill studied at Chichester Technical and Art School, and in 1900 moved to London to train as an architect with the practice of W. D. Caröe, specialists in ecclesiastical architecture.
Working from Ditchling in Sussex, where he lived with his wife Ethel, Gill began direct carving of stone figures in 1910. These included Madonna and Child (1910), which English painter and art critic Roger Fry described in 1911 as a depiction of "pathetic animalism", and Ecstasy (1911). Such semi-abstract sculptures showed Gill's appreciation of medieval ecclesiastical statuary, Egyptian, Greek and Indian sculpture, as well as the Post-Impressionism of Cézanne, van Gogh and Gauguin.
Gill designed several war memorials after the First World War, including the Grade II* listed Trumpington War Memorial, the memorial at Chirk and "the huge lettered wall panel recording 228 names of the fallen in the ante-chapel at New College, Oxford". Commissioned to produce a war memorial for the University of Leeds, Gill produced a frieze depicting Jesus driving the money-changers from the temple, showing contemporary merchants as the money-changers. "In doing so, Gill was suggesting that the merchants of Leeds had profited from the war".
In 1924, Gill moved to Capel-y-ffin in Powys, Wales, where he established a new workshop, to be followed by Jones and other disciples. In 1928, moved to Speen, Buckinghamshire where he set up a printing press and lettering workshop. During this time, he took on a number of apprentices (see below). Others in the household included Gill's two sons-in-law, Petra's husband Denis Tegetmeier and Joanna's husband Rene Hague.
Relief representing Israelite culture, one of ten bas-reliefs by Gill in the inner courtyard at the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem, 1934.
In 1932, Gill produced a group of sculptures, Prospero and Ariel, and others for the BBC's Broadcasting House in London.
In 1934, Gill visited Jerusalem where he worked at the Palestine Archaeological Museum (now the Rockefeller Museum). He carved a stone bas-relief of the meeting of Asia and Africa above the front entrance together with ten stone reliefs illustrating different cultures and a gargoyle fountain in the inner courtyard. He also carved stone signage throughout the museum in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
St Peter the Apostle in Gorleston, Norfolk (1938-9), Gill's only completed building
For the project, Gill produced two seahorses, modelled as Morecambe shrimps, for the outside entrance; a round plaster relief on the ceiling of the circular staircase inside the hotel; a decorative wall map of the north west of England; and a large stone relief of Odysseus being welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa.
Typefaces and inscriptions
One of Gill's first independent lettering projects was creating an alphabet for W.H. Smith's sign painters. In 1914, Gill had met the typographer Stanley Morison, who was later to become a typographic consultant for the Monotype Corporation. Commissioned by Morison, he designed the Gill Sans typeface in 1927-30.[c] In 1925, he designed the Perpetua typeface for Morison, with the uppercase based upon monumental Roman inscriptions. An in-situ example of Gill's design and personal cutting in the style of Perpetua can be found in the nave of the church in Poling, West Sussex, on a wall plaque commemorating the life of Sir Harry Johnston. In the period 1930-31, Gill designed the typeface Joanna which he used to hand-set his book, An Essay on Typography.
Alphabets and Numerals (1909). Gill carved these for a book, "Manuscript and Inscription Letters for Schools and Classes and for the Use of Craftsmen", compiled by his former teacher, Edward Johnston. He later gave them to the Victoria and Albert Museum so they could be used by students at the Royal College of Art.
These dates are somewhat debatable, since a lengthy period could pass between Gill creating a design and it being finalised by the Monotype drawing office team (who would work out many details such as spacing) and cut into metal. In addition, some designs such as Joanna were released to fine printing use long before they became widely available from Monotype.
One of the most widely used British typefaces, Gill Sans, was used in the classic design system of Penguin Books and by the London and North Eastern Railway and later British Railways, with many additional styles created by Monotype both during and after Gill's lifetime. In the 1990s, the BBC adopted Gill Sans for its wordmark and many of its on-screen television graphics.
The family Gill Facia was created by Colin Banks as an emulation of Gill's stone carving designs, with separate styles for smaller and larger text.
Gill was commissioned to develop a typeface with the number of allographs limited to what could be used on Monotype systems or Linotype machines. The typeface was loosely based on the Arabic Naskh style but was considered unacceptably far from the norms of Arabic script. It was rejected and never cut into type.
An Eric Gill woodcut showing Hammersmith, illustrating the book The Devil's devices, or, Control versus Service by Hilary Pepler, 1915
Gill published numerous essays on the relationship between art and religion, and a number of erotic engravings.
Some of Gill's published writings include:
A Holy Tradition of Working: An Anthology of Writings
A Holy Tradition of Working, Passages from the writhings of Eric Gill, selected with an Introduction by Brian Keeble, new edition with forward by Wendell Berry. (Angelico Press, 2021)
Clothes: An Essay Upon the Nature and Significance of the Natural and Artificial Integuments Worn by Men and Women
In 1904, Gill married Ethel Hester Moore (1878-1961), with whom he had three daughters (Elizabeth, b. 1905; Petra, b. 1906; Joanna, b. 1910) and a fostered son (Gordian, b. 1917). In 1907, he moved with his family to "Sopers", a house in the village of Ditchling in Sussex, which would later become the centre of an artists' community inspired by Gill. Much of his work and memorabilia is held and on display at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft.
In 1913, Gill and his wife became Roman Catholics. They moved to Hopkin's Crank at Ditchling Common, two miles north of the village. The Common was an arts and crafts community focused around a chapel, with an emphasis on manual labour in opposition to modern commerce. He worked primarily for Catholic clients, notably his commission at Westminster Cathedral (above). After the war, together with Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute, Gill founded The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling. There his pupils included the artist and poet David Jones, who was to become engaged for a time to Gill's second daughter, Petra. Gill also became a lay member of the Dominican Order.
His personal diaries reveal that his religious beliefs did not limit his sexual activity, which included several extramarital affairs, incestuous sexual abuse of his two eldest teenage daughters, incestuous relationships with his sisters, and sexual acts on his dog. This aspect of Gill's life was little known beyond his family and friends until the publication of the 1989 biography by Fiona MacCarthy. An earlier biography by Robert Speaight, published in 1966, mentioned none of it. Gill's daughter Petra, who was alive at the time of the MacCarthy biography, described her father as having "endless curiosity about sex" and that "we just took it for granted". Despite the acclaim the book received, and the widespread revulsion towards aspects of Gill's sexual life that followed publication, MacCarthy received some criticism for revealing Gill's incest in his daughter's lifetime.
In 1924, Gill left both Ditchling and the Guild of Sts Joseph and Dominic and moved to the Monastery (built by Fr Ignatius) at Capel-y-ffin near Llanthony Abbey in Wales. At Capel, he made The Sleeping Christ (1925); Deposition (1925) and war memorial altarpiece in oak relief for Rossall School (1927). He began printing his own engravings: The Song of Songs (1925), Troilus and Criseyde (1927), The Canterbury Tales (1928), and The Four Gospels (published 1931) for Robert Gibbings's Golden Cockerel Press. It was at Capel too that he designed Perpetua (1925), Gill Sans (1927 onwards) and Solus (1929).
As the revelations about Gill's private life reverberated, there was a reassessment of his personal and artistic achievement. As biographer Fiona MacCarthy sums up:
After the initial shock, [...] as Gill's history of adulteries, incest, and experimental connection with his dog became public knowledge in the late 1980s, the consequent reassessment of his life and art left his artistic reputation strengthened. Gill emerged as one of the twentieth century's strangest and most original controversialists, a sometimes infuriating, always arresting spokesman for man's continuing need of God in an increasingly materialistic civilization, and for intellectual vigour in an age of encroaching triviality.
^formerly a professional singer of light opera under the name Rose le Roi.
^Gill Sans was based on the sans-serif lettering originally designed for the London Underground. Gill had collaborated with Edward Johnston in the early design of the Underground typeface, but dropped out of the project before it was completed.
^Olausson, Lena; Sangster, Catherine (2006). Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 150. ISBN978-0-19-280710-6.
^Peter Worsfold, Great Britain King George VI Low Value Definitive Stamps, The Great Britain Philatelic Society, 2001, ISBN0-907630-17-0. The effigy of George VI was drawn by Edmund Dulac, who had a debate with Gill in newspapers about stamp designing after the Edward VIII postage stamps late-1936, quoted in Colin White, Edmund Dulac, Studio Vista, 1977, p. 172.
Fuller, Peter (1985). Essay:Eric Gill,: a Man of Many Parts. Images of God, The Consolations of lost Illusions. Chatto & Windus.
Gill, Cecil; Warde, Beatrice; Kindersley, David (1968). The Life and Works of Eric Gill. Papers read at a Clark Library symposium, 22 April 1967. Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California.
Gill, Evan; Peace, David (eds) (1994). Eric Gill: The Inscriptions. Herbert Press. ISBN1-871569-66-4.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Harling, Robert (1976). The letter forms and type designs of Eric Gill. Westerham: Eva Svensson. ISBN0-903696-04-5.