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Eric Gill/ Ditchling Museum

If this exhibition is anything to go by, museums and exhibitions will soon be carrying a government sexual warning. As I queued to enter the lady on the desk explained to the elderly couple in front of me that there were exhibits of a sexually explicit nature and the notoriety of Eric Gill.

Gill3For those that do not know or may not have even heard of Eric Gill (1882-1940), he was born in Chichester, worked in an architect’s office and start scuplting in his forties. His sculptures grace the buildings of the BBC, Westminster Catherdral, and the United Nations. That is the positive side of an artist of talent with a wonderful sense of line and form.

He also designed a typeface still commonly used.

The negative is a biography based on his diaries by Fiona McCarthy which revealed he had an abusive relationship with his two daughters Petra and Betty. He is also alleged to have had an incestuous relationship with his sister Cheryl and his dog. The exhibition poses the question to what extent does this militate our appreciation of his work.

My view is that the artistic creative spirit is not PC. If you consider two of the most celebrated British artists of the latter half of the twentieth century Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, neither were exactly as pure as snow.

picasso5I have in my collection of art books Picasso Portraits and in it is a drawing Angel Fernandez de Soto with a Woman which depicts a young prostitute sitting naked on the lap of the subject, his finger between her legs.

Undoubtedly pornographic it would sell for a fortune as example of an output in 1903 of Picasso caricatures of the sexual escapades of his cronies.

Although Picasso treated his women badly , the level of abuse was way below that of Eric Gill. Yet Gill’s daughter once donated a smock in which he painted which is exhibited and I know his grand niece who is proud of the artistic achievements of her grand uncle.

We do not know how accurate his diaries are and of course Eric Gill cannot defend himself. This is the view of biographer Fiona MacCarthy – Article on Eric Gill

Gill loversDaffers went straight to the sexually explicit section which she deemed as nothing that lewd. She would know!

There were depictions of procreating couples and genitalia but a tender one of two lovers kissing no more explicit than Rodin’s The Kiss.

I quoted Oscar Wilde who observed that there is no such thing as a pornographic book, it is only good or bad.

More of a problem for me was the shallow content numbering only 80 exhibits. This is reinforced by some sculptural work from Professor Cathie Pilkington of the Royal Academy which were manifestly of lower standard.

DownsFor those interested in going I would suggest you make a day of this.

The countryside around Ditchling is amongst the most beautiful in the country, the rolling green South Downs surround Ditchling a pretty little town.

Oddly, though John Constable and Duncan Grant down the road at Charleston House, Fylde painted locally, Sussex does not have a defined school like say East Anglia that produced John Crome, Sir Alfred Munnings and Edward Seago who were born and bred there.

Eric Gill is a man of Sussex so much so that Brighton Corporation named a bus after him. A petition was presented that this was inappropriate and the Council responded that if that had to enquire into the private lives of the 100 other plaques on buses dedicated to famous Brighton and its environs residents they would have to scrap the scheme.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts