Eric Gill (1882-1940)

Following Chichester Technical and Art School, Gill moved to London in 1900 to train with the ecclesiastical architects W D Caroe. Finding architecture somewhat pedestrian he took stonemasonry lessons at Westminster Technical Institute and calligraphy lessons at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, coming under the influence of Edward Johnson, the designer of the London Underground’s own typeface. In 1903 he ceased his attempts to become an architect, instead becoming a monumental mason, letter-cutter and calligrapher.

Based in Ditchling, he began direct carving of stone figures, the semi-abstract figures taking their influence from mediaeval statuary, mixed with influences from Classical statuary from the Greeks and Romans, with a little post-Impressionism added in.

With major commissions from Westminster Cathedral for its Stations of the Cross (1914), a series of War Memorials including the Grade II* memorial in Trumpington, and three of the sculptures for Charles Holden’s 1928 headquarters of London Underground at 55 Broadway, St James’s, and a series of sculptures for the new 1932 Broadcasting House. The list continues.

Never one to rest on his laurels, he was at the same time engaged in typographical adventures. He had collaborated with Edward Johnson on the latter’s initial thoughts on his London Transport typeface, but in 1925 designed Perpetua on his own, and Gill Sans between 1927-30. For the Golden Cockerel Press he created, in 1929, a bolder typeface to complement wood engravings.

And of course Gill was publishing decorated books. His 1929 Canterbury Tales was an epic work, with a whole series of beautiful wood engravings such as this one. The present print is from the 1934 edition for Faber & Faber (‘Engravings 1928-1933 by Eric Gill’) he printed with his son-in-law, Rene Hague, produced with the original engraved wood blocks.


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