Mother and Child (1910)
This small statue caught my eye during my visit to the Museum of Art in Cardiff. It’s an early work by Eric Gill, carved from creamy white Portland limestone., displayed in the centre of Gallery 14.
It’s simple, but very distinctive showing influences from Medieval and Egyptian sculpture. The mother isn’t the most stunning of beauties, she’s rather “chunky” with large feet. But I think it’s very attractive and strongly suggests the bond between the mother and her child.
According to the Museum website
The style of this carving reveals Gill’s study of Romanesque art. Its subject may have been suggested by the birth of his daughter Joanna in February 1910. Included in the artist’s first exhibition in 1911, Roger Fry wrote of it: ‘has anyone ever looked more directly at the real thing and seen its pathetic animalism as Gill has? Merely to have seen what the gesture of pressing the breast with the left hand means, as he has, seems to be a piece of deep imagination’.
It’s beautifully carved, showing Gill’s skill as a sculptor. He’s even included detail around the back of the sculpture, in particular the mother’s plaited hair.
I think it’s a beautiful example of Gill’s sculpture. I like much of his work – sculptures, reliefs, paintings, prints and typography. His style is clean and simple. I’ve seen other examples recently in the Midland Hotel, Morecambe and at St John’s College in Cambridge.
However, Gill, a pious convert to Catholicism, was, to put it mildly, a dodgy character. After his death his involvement in perverted sexual practices, including incest, child abuse and bestiality were alleged in a biography by Fiona MacCarthy, behaviour that clearly warranted a long jail sentence. All of this makes me feel very unsettled. It raises the question as to whether it is possible to separate the man from his art.