Gill, Eric

(1882 – 1940)

Rossall School War Memorial Altarpiece, 1927

SKU: 10877

English oak and ebony with mild steel supports on the reverse

Height: 102cm
Width: 208.5cm


Rossall Council

Exhibited: Goupil Gallery, October – November, 1927; Barbican Art Gallery, November 1992-February 1993

In December 1925, Eric Gill visited Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire to discuss the possibility of carving a large oak altarpiece for the new War Memorial Chapel there. The commissioners chose the subject of the Adoration of the Magi, but instead Gill proposed that of the Crucifixion, which was accepted. On 19th January 1927 the oak panels for the altarpiece were delivered to Gill’s workshop in Capel-y-ffin, in the Black Mountains of Wales, where he worked out the design. A series of photographs taken at Capel-y-ffin by Howard Coster – and now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery ‚Äì document Gill at work during this period. The relief took over two months to  carved (from 4th July to 13th September).

In a letter to Desmond Chute (dated 23rd September, 1927), Gill states that the finished reredos was to be shown at the Goupil during Oct. November’, after which point he was to fix up the Rossall panel’ at the School. This was the only substantial wood carving that Eric Gill ever produced. 

Two preparatory drawings for the altarpiece were formerly in the collection of David Bowie, and were offered at his posthumous sale at Sotheby’s in 2016. These depict the two thieves bound to their crosses at Christ’s crucifixion, one of whom faces towards Christ while the other turns away.

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Gill, Eric

1882 – 1940

Sculptor, engraver, letter-carver and typographer, born in Brighton, Sussex, the son of a Congregationalist minister and always referred to as Eric Gill. He became articled to W.H. Carse, architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in London in 1900. Gill attended evening classes at Central School of Arts & Crafts who studied letter design under Edward Johnston, he also began to carve in stone. By 1904, he was making a living from letter engraving and in 1910 began making figure sculpture and held his first solo exhibition at the Chenil Gallery, London, 1911 and about this time made several visits to the little-known Leeds Art Club. He set up an artistic community or artists colony in Ditchling, Sussex and was converted to Roman Catholicism in 1913.

In 1924, he moved to Capel-y-ffin in Wales and over the next four years produced much of his greatest engraved work, mainly for Gibbing’s Golden Cockerel Press. He moved again to High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire in 1928 and though a controversial figure in that his sexual improprieties remained in conflict with his Catholic faith, Gill is nowadays regarded as one of the greatest craftsmen of the 20th century, a typographer and letter cutter of skill and a masterly wood engraver. Gill was appointed RDI in 1936 one of the Royal Society of Arts earliest recipients and was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

Gill was a member of the Art Workers’ Guild, Society of Wood Engravers and contributed articles to various publications including Industrial Arts in 1936. Retrospective exhibition venues include Kettle’s Yard, 1979 and the Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1992-93 which also toured the UK. His prints are regularly exhibited at KHG, Marlborough, Wiltshire and previously at the Piccadilly Gallery. Examples of his work particularly his prints are in the collections of the V&A, BM, Brighton Art Gallery, Doncaster Art Gallery, Museums Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent Art Gallery and Hull University.

With thanks to


Eric Gill
Standing Female Nude (from Twenty-five Nudes), c 1938