Arthur Eric Rowton Gill (22
February 1882 – 17 November 1940) was a British sculptor, typeface
designer, stonecutter and printmaker, who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.
Specimens of typefaces by Eric
Today he is a controversial figure, with his well-known religious
views and subject matter being seen at odds with his sexual and
behaviour and erotic
born in 1882 in Brighton, Sussex (now
Sussex) and in 1897 the family moved to Chichester. Eric studied at Chichester Technical and Art
School, and in 1900 moved to London to train as
an architect with the practice of W.D. Caroe
specialists in ecclesiastical architecture. Frustrated with his
training, he took evening classes in stone masonry at Westminster
Technical Institute and in calligraphy
at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where Edward Johnston
, creator of the London Underground typeface
, became a strong influence. In 1903 he
gave up his architectural training to become a calligrapher,
letter-cutter and monumental mason.
In 1904 he
married Ethel Hester Moore (1878–1961), and 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.
There he started
producing sculpture – his first public success was Mother and
In 1913 he moved to Hopkin's Crank at Ditchling Common, two miles
north of the village. In 1914 he produced sculptures for the
stations of the cross in
In the same year he met the typographer
. After the war,
together with Hilary Pepler
, Gill founded The Guild of St Joseph and
at Ditchling, where his pupils included the young
, who soon began a
relationship with Gill's daughter, Petra.
In 1924 he
moved to Capel-y-ffin in Wales, where he
set up a new workshop, to be followed by Jones and other
In 1925 he designed the Perpetua
typeface, with the uppercase
based upon monumental Roman inscriptions, for Morison, who was
working for the Monotype
. in-situ example of Gill's design and personal
cutting of his Perpetua typeface can be found in the nave of
Poling church in West Sussex, on a wall plaque
commemorating the life of Sir Harry
The Perpetua design was followed by the
typeface in 1927–30, based on
the sans serif lettering originally designed by Edward Johnston for
. In the period
1930-31 Gill designed the typeface Joanna
which he used to hand-set his book,
An Essay on Typography
Gill soon tired of Capel-y-ffin, coming to feel that it had the
wrong atmosphere and was too far from London, where most of his
clients were. In 1928 he moved to Pigotts near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire,
where he set up a printing press and lettering workshop.
took on a number of apprentices, including David Kindersley
, who in turn became a
successful sculptor and engraver, and John Skelton (1923–1999), his
nephew, and also noted as an important letterer and sculptor. Other
apprentices included Laurie Cribb, Donald Potter and Walter
Ritchie. Others in the household included Denis Tegetmeier, married
to Gill's daughter Petra, and Rene Hague, married to the other
Gill produced a group of sculptures, Prospero and Ariel,
for the BBC's Broadcasting House in London. In 1937, he designed the background of
the first George VI
definitive stamp series for the
Post Office, and in 1938 produced The Creation of Adam,
three bas-reliefs in stone for the Palace of Nations, the League of
Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland. During this period he was made a Royal Designer for Industry,
the highest British award for designers, by the Royal
Society of Arts and became a founder-member of the newly
established Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.
A deeply religious man, Eric Gill published numerous essays on the
relationship between art and religion. He also produced a number of
erotic engravings. Gill died of lung cancer in Harefield
Hospital, Uxbridge, Middlesex in 1940. His papers and library are archived at the
Clark Memorial Library at UCLA.
Gill Sans, Gill's most famous
Eric Gill's types include:
- Gill Sans (his most
famous face and lasting legacy to typography 1927–1930)
- Perpetua Greek (1929)
- Golden Cockerel Press Type (for the Golden Cockerel Press; 1929)
- Solus (1929),
- Joanna (based
on work by Granjon; 1930– 1931)
- Aries (1932)
- Floriated Capitals (1932)
- Bunyan (1934)
- Pilgrim (recut version of Bunyan; 1953)
- Jubilee (also known as Cunard; 1934)
In his 1947–1949 redesign for Penguin
, a project that resulted in the establishment of
Penguin Composition Rules, Jan
specified use of Gill Sans for book titles, and in
branding their Pelican imprint. In the 1990s, the BBC adopted Gill
Sans for its wordmark
and many of its on-screen television graphics.
Whilst Gill was a deeply religious man, largely following the
faith, his beliefs and
practices were by no means orthodox. His personal diaries describe
his sexual activity in great detail including the fact that Gill
sexually abused his own children, had an incestuous relationship
with his sister and performed sexual acts on his dog. This aspect
of Gill's life was little known until publication of the 1989
biography by Fiona MacCarthy
's earlier biography
mentioned none of it.
As the revelations about Gill's private life resonated, there was a
reassessment of his personal and artistic achievement. As his
recent biographer 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."
- A Holy Tradition of Working: An Anthology of Writings,
Golgonooza Press, 1983, ISBN 0-903880-30-X
- Clothes: An Essay Upon the Nature and Significance of the
Natural and Artificial Integuments Worn by Men and Women,
1931, Jonathan Cape
- An Essay on Typography, 1931, ISBN 0-87923-762-7, ISBN
- Christianity and Art, 1927
- Art, 1934
- Work and Property, 1937
- Work and Culture, 1938
- Autobiography: Quod Ore Sumpsimus, Jonathan Cape, 1940
(published posthumously) ISBN 1-870495-13-6
- Attwater, Donald. A Cell of Good Living. London : G.
Chapman, 1969. ISBN 0-225-48865-5
- Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style.
Hartley & Marks, 1992. ISBN 0-88179-033-8.
- Collins, Judith. Eric Gill: The Sculpture. Woodstock,
NY : Overlook Press, 1998. ISBN 0-87951-830-8
- Corey, Steven and MacKenzie, Julia (eds). Eric Gill: A
Bibliography. St Paul's Bibliographies, 1991. ISBN
- Dodd, Robin. From Gutenberg to OpenType. Hartley &
Marks, 2006. ISBN 0-88179-210-1
- Fiedl, Frederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein.
Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and
Techniques Through History. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998.
- Gill, Cecil, Beatrice Warde and David Kindersley. 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, 1968
- Gill, Evan and Peace, David (eds). Eric Gill: The
Inscriptions. Herbert Press: 1994. ISBN 1-871569-66-4
- Harling, Robert. The letter forms and type designs of Eric
Gill. Westerham : Eva Svensson, 1976. ISBN 0-903696-04-5
- Holliday, Peter. Eric Gill in Ditchling. Oak Knoll
Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58456-075-4
- Kindersley, David. Mr. Eric
Gill: Further Thoughts by an Apprentice. Cardozo Kindersley
Editions: 1967. 1982. ISBN 0950194654
- MacCarthy, Fiona. Eric Gill. Faber & Faber: 1989.
- Macmillan, Neil. An A–Z of Type Designers. Yale
University Press: 2006. ISBN 0-300-11151-7.
- Miles, Jonathan. Eric Gill & David Jones at
Capel-y-ffin. Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan : Seren Books, 1992.
- Pincus, J.W., W. Turner Berry and A. F. Johnson.
Encyclopædia of Type Faces. Cassell Paperback, London;
2001. ISBN 1-84188-139-2
- Skelton, Christopher, (ed.) Eric Gill – The
Engravings. London : Herbert, 1990. ISBN 1-87156-915-X
- Speaight, Robert. Life of Eric Gill. London : Methuen,
- Thorp, Joseph. Eric Gill. London : J. Cape, 1929
- Yorke, Malcolm. Eric Gill – Man of Flesh and Spirit.
London : Constable, 1981. ISBN 0-09-463740-7
- C.f. Donald Potter, My Time with Eric Gill: A Memoir,
Gamecock Press, 1980, ISBN 0-9506205-1-3.
- Peter Worsfold, Great Britain King George VI Low Value
Definitive Stamps, The Great Britain Philatelic Society, 2001,
ISBN 0907630170. The effigy of George VI was drawn by Edmund Dulac, who has a
passionate epistolary 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, page 172.
- C.f. Christopher Skelton (ed.), Eric Gill, The
Engravings, Herbert Press, 1990, ISBN 1-871569-15-X.
- "Finding Aid for the Collection on Eric Gill, 1887-2003"
- Fiona MacCarthy, "Gill, (Arthur) Eric Rowton (1882–1940)",
Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.