Eric Gill

Other names: 

Arthur Eric Rowton Gill

Date of birth: 
22 Feb 1882
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
17 Nov 1940

Brighton; Chichester; Ditchling, Sussex; Capel-y-ffin, Wales; Piggots, Buckinghamshire.


Eric Gill was one of the most significant sculptors to work in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century. As well as being a talented stone carver, he was also a gifted draughtsman, letterer, typographer and printer. Rejecting the established techniques of making sculpture with the aid of the pointing machine, Gill is credited with re-establishing the practice of ‘direct carving’ in Britain and influencing the work of subsequent generations of sculptors, including Henry Moore.

Gill began to make sculpture in 1909, having trained in the offices of the architect W. D. Caroë and enrolled in evening classes in masonry at the Westminster Technical Institute and calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. His first figural sculpture, Estin Thalassa (now lost), combined cut lettering, for which he had already become well known, and a naked, crouching woman. He showed photographs of this work to William Rothenstein and Roger Fry who became crucial supporters of his work. Whilst Rothenstein was travelling in India, Gill wrote to him telling him about his own exposure in Britain to images of Indian architecture and sculpture through a publication called Wonders of the World.

In 1908, Gill met Ananda Coomaraswamy at a lecture given by the latter at the Art Workers’ Guild in London. Through these acquaintances, Gill became interested in the art and culture of India and he joined the India Society in 1910 (as did fellow sculptor Jacob Epstein). Gill took a specific interest in the religious carving which adorned South Asian temples, heavily influenced by Coomaraswamy’s publications. In his Autobiography, Gill wrote of Coomaraswamy: ‘I dare not confess myself his disciple; that would only embarrass him. I can only say that I believe that no other living writer has written the truth in matters of art and life and religion and piety with such wisdom and understanding.’ Gill also wrote an introductory essay on ‘Art and Reality’ for Mulk Raj Anand’s The Hindu View of Art and contributed a full-page engraving to Anand’s The Lost Child, published in 1934.

Published works: 

‘Preface’, in Vivakarma: Examples of Indian Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Handicraft, Chosen by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, First Series: One Hundred Examples of Indian Sculpture: With an Introduction by Eric Gill (London: Messrs. Luzac, 1914), pp. 3-7

Slavery and Freedom (Ditchling: St Dominic’s Press, 1917)

Sculpture (Ditchling: St Dominic’s Press, 1918)

Birth Control (Ditchling: St Dominic’s Press, 1919)

Dress (Ditchling: St Dominic’s Press, 1921)

Art and Love (Waltham St Lawrence: Golden Cockerel Press, 1928)

The Future of Sculpture (London: Lanston Monotype Corporation Ltd)

Art-Nonsense and Other Essays (London: Cassell & Co. and Francis Walterson, 1929)

Sculpture and the Living Model (London: Faber & Faber)

Art and a Changing Civilisation (London: John Lane – The Bodley, 1934)

The Necessity of Belief (London: Faber & Faber/Hague & Gill, 1936)

Work & Property (London: Dent & Sons/Hague & Gill, 1937)

Twenty-five Nudes (London: Dent & Sons/Hague & Gill, 1938)

Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1940)

Contributions to periodicals: 

The Listener (‘A Sign and a Symbol’, 15 March 1933, p. 397)

(under pseudonym E. Rowton) Westminster Cathedral Chronicle (‘The Stations of the Cross in the Cathedral’, March 1918, p. 52)

Secondary works: 

Attwater, Donald, A Cell of Good Living: The Life, Works and Opinions of Eric Gill (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1969)

Attwater, Donald, Eric Gill: Workman (London: James Clarke & Co., 1941)

Collins, Judith, Eric Gill: Sculpture (London: Lund Humphries, in association with Barbican Art Gallery, 1992)

Collins, Judith, Eric Gill, the Sculpture: A Catalogue Raisonné (London: The Herbert Press, 1998)

Gill, E. R., Bibliography of Eric Gill (London: Cassell & Co. 1953)

Gill, E. R., The Inscriptional Work of Eric Gill: An Inventory (London: Cassell & Co. 1964)

Physick, J. F., The Engraved Works of Eric Gill (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1963)

Jones, David, Epoch and Artist (London: Faber & Faber, 1959)

MacCarthy, Fiona, Eric Gill (London: Faber & Faber, 1989)

Peace, David, Eric Gill: The Inscriptions (London: The Herbert Press, 1994)

Rothenstein, J. K. M., Eric Gill (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927)

Shewering, Walter (ed.), The Letters of Eric Gill (London: Jonathan Cape, 1947)

Skelton, Christopher, The Engravings of Eric Gill (Wellingborough: Skelton’s Press, 1983)

Speaight, Robert, The Life of Eric Gill (London: Methuen, 1966)

Thorpe, Joseph, Eric Gill (London: Jonathan Cape, 1929)

Yorke, Malcolm, Eric Gill: Man of Flesh and Spirit (London: Constable, 1981)


Eric Gill to William Rothenstein, letter written whilst Rothenstein was travelling in India, 6 January 1911, Ms ENG 1148/596/36, William Rothenstein Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University


So we have been gaining some small notion of the sort of thing you are seeing… I agree with you in your suggestion that the best route to Heaven is via Elephanta, Ellora & Ajanta. They must be wonderful places indeed…Someday we will follow in your footsteps and go and see the real things.

Archive source: 

Diaries and papers, NUC MS 77-1948, William Andrew Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles

Correspondence, Add 73195 ff, Manuscript Collections, British Library, St Pancras

Letter and photographs, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

Correspondence, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Papers, including artwork files, Chatto & Windus Archive, Reading University Library, Reading

Postcards and drawings, MSL/1977/5316; MSL1983/24/1-2; MSL/1957/3382; MSL/1977/5952; MSL/1964/3241, National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum

Correspondence and papers, University of San Francisco Library, San Franscisco